FA Cup Week…Part Three: Bishop’s Stortford – The Stadium

BISHOPS STORTFORDAs FA Cup week continues and we grow closer to the First Round clash on Sunday, today I take a look at the stadium where the drama will unfold.

The ProKit UK Stadium (Woodside Park) has only been the home of Bishop’s Stortford since 1999 with the club residing in various different venues in the eighteen months prior to its opening including Boreham Wood, Dagenham and Redbridge, St. Albans City, Ware and Hitchin Town. The first game at the new ground was a pre-season meeting with Norwich City on July 17th.

Before the move to the 4,000 capacity Woodside Park the Bishops were at the Laundry Field from their early beginnings until 1919 and then the George Wilson Stadium until the eventual move to their current location. The stadium is situated right next to Stansted Airport (some Cobblers fans joking that it gives Aidy Boothroyd a quick exit plan if we lose!) and also near to the M11 services.

There are covered terraces at both ends of the pitch with the main Brian Bayford stand to one side which holds 300 supporters, press facilities and a directors’ box. A club house is situated on site and is open to all supporters while there is also a food stand just outside the main stand. There is space for 150 cars at the stadium with more parking available nearby. The ground is a twenty minute walk from the town centre and from Bishop’s Stortford train station (taxis available from outside the station).

Tickets are on sale as we speak for Cobblers fans with ALL seats sold out and only around 200 terrace tickets remaining at the end of the day on Tuesday. They remain on sale to members and season ticket holders today before any remaining are released on general sale tomorrow.

Ravenhill...new Cobblers loan signing

Ravenhill…new Cobblers loan signing

More FA Cup build up…

Big movements into Sixfields this afternoon as Jacob Blyth arrives back on a second loan spell up to the middle of December. Blyth scored three times in eight games earlier in the season before injury cut short his initial deal but comes back in at just the right time with Town lacking any real presence up front.

Also coming in is midfielder Ricky Ravenhill on loan from Bradford City. The battling midfielder has struggled to break into the Bantams’ side this season but has plenty of experience in the lower leagues. We certainly need more people to grab hold of a game and scrap it out with the best of them and Ravenhill fits the bill, for the short term at least. Ravenhill played for the final three minutes from the bench in last season’s playoff final against the Cobblers.

Both Blyth and Ravenhill have been cleared to play at Bishop’s Stortford.

Elsewhere, loanee Stuart Dallas has extended his deal up to January with the winger still waiting to hear whether he and fellow Brentford man Luke Norris will be cleared to play on Sunday by their parent club. Kane Ferdinand has already received the green light from Peterborough United to take part on Sunday and if Dallas and Norris are also able to play that could mean we start with FIVE loan players at Woodside Park!

Bishop’s Stortford fans have been snapping up tickets at a strong pace over the last couple of days with 1,500 sold at close of play on Tuesday. As an indicator, Saturday’s home game with Tonbridge Angels attracted 573.

The Blues have also been bringing in new signings this week – Tommy Fletcher has signed on loan from Wycombe Wanderers and Manny Sackay has resigned with the club.

FA Cup Week…Part Two: Meet the Manager

Stringer...the man in charge

Stringer…the man in charge

Part Two of this FA Cup week special takes a look at the man in the opposition dug out on Sunday afternoon. The man charged with taking Bishop’s Stortford into the Second Round and with continuing a superb start to the season is Rod Stringer, a man who not only has past experience in promotion from the Conference South but is also now in high demand in the non-league pyramid. Chelmsford City are the latest to reportedly show interest in prizing him away from the Prokit UK Stadium.

Stringer was named Stortford manager in December 2011, replacing former Spurs keeper Ian Walker as the man at the top. On taking the job, the Bishops were third from bottom of Conference North but Stringer completely turned around their fortunes and led them to a tenth place finish by the end of that season.

A seventeenth place finish a year later was followed by a switch back to the Conference South for the current campaign and the club have shot out of the blocks with eight wins from twelve and five out of six at home.

Stringer is looking to continue a personal record that is making more and more teams stand up and take notes in the non-league circles. He was a success at Aveley and took them to the Ryman League Division One North championship in 2009 having learned his trade at Barking and Barkingside, both from the Essex Senior League.

He moved on to take charge of Braintree Town in May 2010 and in his only season in charge led them to the Conference South championship. Just two weeks after the end of the season, though, he was looking for a new job again when financial negotiations with Chairman Lee Harding completely broke down.

The Brains’ loss was Bishop’s Stortford’s gain though and it looks as though Stringer is on course for another crack at promotion. Victory against the Cobblers on Sunday afternoon would add a notable bonus feature to an ever growing C.V.

FA Cup Week…Part One: Meet Bishop’s Stortford

Bishops-Stortford-badgeIt’s that time of year again. Dreams of non-league teams have arguably already been realised after round upon round of qualifying have now come to a conclusion and the First Round is upon us (I’m still not convinced that we should call it the “First Round Propah” to quote Trevor Brooking). The Cobblers have been paired with Conference South high flyers Bishop’s Stortford and I thought I would take some time this week to get to know our opponents more.

The wonderful thing about this competition is that you get the underdogs battling through to reach the First Round but also that the league teams involved coming up against them get to make acquaintances with a new club. Whatever happens on Sunday this game will likely be memorable and one that we look back on, good or bad.

That’s why it’s important to not just see Bishop’s Stortford as a side that could potentially do everlasting damage to the Cobblers but also to respect their football club and what they are trying to do. We should be embracing this game, as hard as it is right now, as the occasion that it most certainly is. Make no bones about it, this is a massive, massive game for both clubs and not just the home side.

So this week I’ll be talking all things Bishop’s Stortford with fans whilst giving a bigger picture of their history, starting this afternoon.

The early years

Bishop’s Stortford actually have a longer history than the Cobblers having been formed in 1874 and establishing themselves in the Stansted and District League. They topped the division in 1911, 1913 and 1920. They were a busy club at the time having also entered the brilliantly named Saffron Walden and District League with success coming in 1912, 1913 and 1914.

Towards the middle of the century the club moved to the Hertfordshire County League, the Spartan League, the Delphian League (winning it in 1955) and the Athenian League. As the Cobblers were working their way up the divisions from Division Four to Division One in the sixties, the Bishops were creating their own history by winning the Athenian First Division in 1966 and the Athenian Premier League in 1970. The 1970-71 season was another historical one for them as they reached the FA Cup First Round for the first time. Although they were beaten 6-1 by Reading – at that point at Division Three outfit – it was a pivotal moment for the club.

The following season saw a switch to the Isthmian League and by 1973 they were back in the FA Cup, taking Peterborough United to a replay before eventually bowing out 3-1. They came close to winning the FA Amateur Cup that season by reaching the semi-finals but a year later and they had won the last ever competition that went by that name.

League and Cup Success…

Two more FA Cup appearances followed with a First Round Replay defeat to Leatherhead after a replay in 1974-75 frustrating their attempts to make a first ever Second Round appearance. That feat was finally achieved a year later, though, when Dartford were brushed aside 4-1 in the First Round to set up a Second Round clash with Aldershot Town in which they were beaten 2-0.

The club were relegated from the Isthmian Premier League in 1978 but bounced back in a historical season of 1980-81 when they not only won the First Division but also clinched the FA Trophy with a 1-0 win over Sutton United under the twin towers at Wembley.

More cup glory followed with a first ever win over a league side in the FA Cup coming with revenge on Reading as they beat the Royals 2-1 in 1982. They went on past Slough Town to book a first ever Third Round place and held then Second Division (Championship in new money!) Middlesbrough to a terrific 2-2 draw at Ayresome Park. The replay saw them just fall short in a 2-1 defeat and the Bishops were eliminated in the First Round in each of the following three seasons.

Back in the league and 1992 was a poor one with relegation back to the Isthmian First Division. It was to be a relatively short stay once again, though, with promotion as champions coming in 1994. They stayed in the Premier League for a further five seasons until relegation in 1999.

Skrill_South_LogoConference North and South…

Returning three years later, a period of stability helped them to establish themselves in the new Conference South division and held down their place there until 2011 when they were transferred to the Conference North due to Rushden and Diamonds being forced to pull out.

With the club third from bottom in the Conference North in 2011, former Tottenham and England goalkeeper Ian Walker was replaced as manager by current boss Rod Stringer who took them back up the table to eventually finish tenth.

This season, they’ve been on a fantastic run and have won five out of six league games, the latest being a 2-1 victory against Tonbridge Angels on Saturday, whilst only losing once away from home to see them sitting third in the table ahead of Sunday’s game. The FA Cup run has taken them past Hendon (5-0), Chipstead (6-1) and Conference Premier side Forest Green Rovers (1-0).

As the Bishops look to make another indelible mark on their history on Sunday, we have to hope that we end up being a side note rather than one of their more famous moments.

Banana Skin Potential in FA Cup

BISHOPS STORTFORDThe Cobblers have just been drawn to play away at Conference South side Bishop’s Stortford in the First Round of the FA Cup. Whilst I earlier said it would be nice to play a new side I did say I wanted it at home so this becomes one with real banana skin potential. Stortford have won their last six games in league and cup including a 6-1 hammering of Chipstead FC and an excellent 1-0 success yesterday against Conference Premier club Forest Green Rovers.

Based in Hertfordshire, it’s not the longest trip for Cobblers fans but it will conjure up memories of that dreadful day in 2001 when we were dumped out of the cup at Canvey Island in front of a BBC audience on a Sunday lunch time.

The Blues have a long history having been formed in 1874 with an FA Trophy win in 1981 and Isthmian League titles in 1981 and 1994 amongst their finest hours. They play at the Prokit Stadium which holds an impressive 4,525.

So a very tricky tie to overcome in a couple of weeks’ time but it should be good fun to make some new friends along the way. The magic of the cup will most definitely be in the air when the tie takes place (over the weekend of November 9th and 10th) but let’s just hope we’re not making the headlines!

Still no escape as Rubies frustrate

aidy boothroydNorthampton Town 1-1 Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, October 26th 2013

The Cobblers continue to tread the line at the bottom of League Two with a home draw yesterday against an improving Cheltenham side providing another example of Aidy Boothroyd plugging gaps and scrapping out for points rather than showing any real intent of blowing teams away at what was, last season, a fortress. Of course, last season’s phenomenal run at Sixfields didn’t start until the end of December but at the moment it’s very difficult indeed to envision anything even close to that sort of form this time around.

Oddly, we’re only four points worse off than at this time last year (I envisioned it being more) but the general mood is not one that would suggest that supporters believe in the current crop of Town players to pull off a second successive run from nowhere to challenge at the right end of the table. What is apparent, though, is that Boothroyd and his men need to start delivering points in threes to get out of this mess. While we try to do that, we may not get the most sparkling performances but I get the feeling that anxiety is spreading from the stands to the players with shaky defending and miscued passes still in abundance.

The issues with scoring goals is still providing a lot of worry with Luke Norris the only one looking likely to be consistent in that department. Norris has scored three in three and the nature of his loan deal means that he’ll be reporting back to Brentford soon so we need to try and get him tied up for the season and give him some support up front. Roy O’Donovan is now out for a month whilst Clive Platt isn’t the answer so the promised new loan forwards could do with finalising their deals too. The very fact that we’re relying on these short term solutions could well link to supporter apathy. There’s clearly been some missed chances in the transfer window over the summer and we must learn lessons. As fans we need players who are going to come in and make the claret shirt their own…it’s great when you get a fantastic loanee but short term deals never capture our imagination as much as someone that we know will be playing solely for the Cobblers.

Anyway, that’s all to be sorted hopefully if the ever growing quotes of “the new striker will be here tomorrow” or “we’re very, very close to a deal” are to be believed.

Back to yesterday and Cheltenham were in no mood to feel sorry for our plight with their own plight to deal with. They started off where they’d left off against Morecambe on Tuesday night when Byron Harrison found far too much space in the area to rifle in the opening goal after just nine minutes. That was exactly what we didn’t need.

There seemed no real threat to that lead with Harrison coming close to doubling it in the best opening of the first half an hour but just before the break Town grabbed a life line, seemingly out of nowhere. Confusion in the Rubies’ area was capitalised on by Norris who took his chance to round the keeper and slot in to continue his terrific loan spell. 1-1 at the break and it would get no better for Boothroyd.

In fact, Matt Duke was the star man again which says a lot about how the second forty five minutes went. Sam Deering, creator of the first goal, raced through one on one but Duke did well to get down for the save before Harrison was also foiled by the Town stopper.

Ishmel Demontagnac came on and was, inevitably, involved in the final few minutes with a good run and shot as well as being fouled by Jason Taylor. Taylor was booked but knew exactly who he was dealing with and stood over Demontagnac, winding him up enough to draw a booking for the Cobblers player as well. The conundrum that is Demontagnac will puzzle us right up until he departs our shores but at the moment he’s a wild card that we arguably could make use of, particularly off the bench when there’s little time (supposedly) for him to get into trouble and tired defender to charge at.

So another home draw and still no progress up the table with Accrington’s win at Morecambe taking them to the same amount of points as us. Suddenly it’s all tightening up and we simply have to get out of this pack as soon as possible. Easier said than done!


The FA Cup First Round draw takes place on Sunday afternoon

The FA Cup First Round draw takes place on Sunday afternoon

This afternoon sees the FA Cup First Round draw and I’ve heard a lot of people calling for a clash with the Posh in a local derby. Whilst that would give us something fun to look forwards to, do we really want to face a side that scores for fun, is well drilled and who will likely provide us with a derby day to forget and Boothroyd with yet more pressure?

No thanks, a fun non-league team at home would be my pick…I’ve always enjoyed learning more about ‘smaller teams’ down the footballing pyramid and mixing with fans you would never usually see so this afternoon I’m hoping for a tie with Biggleswade or Stourbridge rather than a potentially damaging derby. We’ll have Posh in Round Three when we’re back in mid-table and on an upward curve. The kiss of death…


Penalty agony in cup replay

Bradford City 3-3 Northampton Town (AET – Bradford win 4-2 on penalties)

FA Cup First Round Replay

Tuesday, 13th November 2012

A night where youngsters stepped up to the plate, a match swung from one way to another and back again and the newly inherited spirit in the Cobblers ranks came to the fore again ended in the most dramatic of styles as Town bowed out of the FA Cup.

But as we pass the one year anniversary of Gary Johnson’s departure after a 1-0 loss at Luton Town at the same stage of the competition last season the difference in the squad is enormous, both in quality and in overall self-belief within it. Whereas twelve months ago we had no desire or direction as a non-league opponent deservedly dumped us out of the cup, this time around we are reflecting on an agonising night that ended with a penalty shoot-out that reflected a frantic 120 minutes of action.

Town were down to the bare bones after a sickness bug rocked the camp before the game. Chris Hackett was missing whilst Bayo was only able to make it to the bench alongside sixteen-year-old Ivan Toney who made up a substitute list of only five of the available seven that we were allowed.

So expectancy wasn’t the highest to say the least and when Bradford took the lead through Will Atkinson it looked like a long way back. But on the stroke of half-time, Town battled back and when Ishmel Demontagnac was brought down in the area he stepped up to convert the spot kick and bring us level.

The two sides have matched each other through most of the recent trilogy of games and it was no different last night with chances at both ends at a premium. As the game entered the last minute, though, the ever tormenting Nahki Wells, on as a substitute, took his chance following a Joe Widdowson hand ball to convert a penalty and seemingly put City into the Second Round. But yet more drama was to follow…by this point Bayo had been unleashed from the bench and he set up Clive Platt for a well-earned goal to incredibly send the game to extra time.

After that breathless finish it was difficult to focus on what was about to happen in terms of a historical substitution. Ivan Toney came off the bench to become the youngest ever player to appear for the club and showed maturity beyond his years to set up Kelvin Langmead for 3-2 going into the closing stages! At this point, the home side were down to ten men after they used up all three substitutes and James Meredith was taken off injured. Town, on the basis of that and growing momentum, looked to be headed through but there was more to come.

With the game moving into one minute of added time in extra time, Bradford equalised. Carl McHugh headed in and ensured that this cup story would have one final chapter with a penalty shoot-out.

Wells would miss with the first kick before Platt scored to put us in control but then it all started to go wrong. Danny East and Langmead both missed with Gary Jones, Will Atkinson and Stephen Darby all converting for the Bantams. Lewis Hornby had to score and did but Ricky Ravenhill confirmed his side’s progress by netting the decisive kick and the Cobblers were out of the FA Cup.

I wrote those last few words a year ago and had no idea where my football club was going. Now I feel completely different. It’s a horrible way to go out of any competition but this last seven days has restored faith to Cobblers fans. Three away games have come and gone with four points collected in the league (one of those points taken by ten men!) and on this night a team scraped together put in a performance to be proud of. Young players are stepping up, seasoned professionals are leading the way and with our backs against the walls we are seeing something that’s not been seen in a couple of years – a desire to fight for one another on the pitch and a team spirit that will hopefully keep us away from any danger at the wrong end of League Two.

Besides all that, there’s still the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy!

It’s back to the league against struggling Wycombe on Saturday in the first of back-to-back home games and we need to somehow channel the spirit of the recent road trips back into Sixfields to make inroads into the top half of the table.

Until then, I think I need a lie down after that!

Moult earns a replay against stubborn Bantams

Moult…second goal in two games

Northampton Town 1-1 Bradford City

FA Cup First Round

Saturday, November 3rd 2012

I think the phrase on many of our lips on Sunday morning was “at least we’re still in the hat”. And whilst Trevor Brooking’s top hat may not actually be the prop that hands us the big news of the draw for the next round it’s still nice to be in the pot/machine thing that’s used these days. The prize for the winner of what will be the third meeting between the Cobblers and Bradford City within three weeks is a home tie with League One Brentford. That’s the eighth home draw in a row in all competitions by my calculations and one that could still provide a big step up to the Third Round.

The Bantams have proved, though, that they’re one of the toughest nuts to crack in all of League Two and to come through a replay at Valley Parade will arguably be more difficult than the assignment that would follow with a mid-table League One side facing all the nerves and pressure that has made MK Dons and Colchester leave empty handed from Sixfields in the Johnstones Paint Trophy this season.

Not that the trophy holds much of a torch to this grand old cup competition. It’s frustrating sometimes when you get drawn against a team from your own league because you lose the magic of either causing an upset or having to overcome one whilst occasionally looking at your map of England to find out where on earth Forest Green or Canvey Island are.

This was a big test and one that Town did well to come out of with a second bit of the cherry, Chief tormentor Nahki Wells was on the bench so it was left to Will Atkinson to hand his side the lead in the first half with a well taken strike past the helpless Shane Higgs, making his return to goal after his latest injury set back.

At the other end, filling in for Alex Nicholls is Louis Moult and there’s now a big weight on his shoulders that he seems to be carrying very well indeed. Moult is a similar player to Alex Nicholls and provides such similar tools that it will hopefully mean he can pick up where his unfortunate team mate left off. He was once again well placed to net his second goal in two games in the second half to pull Town right back into proceedings with a header that beat former Cobblers loanee Matt Duke. Duke was on fine form on his return to Sixfields and prevented a good number of chances from being converted, following on from his match winning performance in the League Cup at Wigan last Tuesday night.

The rest of the game seemed fairly even and Bradford now have home advantage for a replay that neither club really needed with the injury problems that we’re both facing. In better news on that front, though, Chris Hackett and John Johnson both returned in this one and could well start again on Tuesday night in another tricky outing, this time at York City.

It’s straight back to the league after this aside into the cup then and a solid result is needed at Bootham Crescent to make all the hard work of the Port Vale game seem that bit more worthwhile. It’ll be an autumn and winter period that won’t always go our way but the youngsters being trusted with that claret shirt need our full support as we hit a pivotal section of the season. Keep our heads above water and we can have another look at things come January when there could be one or two further movements in the transfer market.

With two games before the replay from this one there’s got to be full focus back on the league form with Tuesday night’s trek to York followed by another long journey up to Accrington on Saturday so if we can pick up four points from the two I’ll be a very happy man.

I’ll be happy this week anyway as I’m away on holiday so expect minimal blogging on those two games (“No more expectations than usual then” I hear you cry, my one reader!) but I might flitter in with my thoughts on here and on Twitter (@dannybrothers).

Here’s to a good week!

Northampton Town v Bradford City: FA Cup First Round Preview

FA Cup First Round

Northampton Town v Bradford City

FA Cup First Round

Saturday, November 3rd 2012

After the events of last Saturday it’s perhaps a welcome break this weekend as the Cobblers are back in action in the First Round of the FA Cup. Alex Nicholls’ injury overshadowed an excellent win over Port Vale and we now go in search of progression in the cup against a Bradford side that beat us just ten days ago and who are coming into the game on the back of a giant killing in another competition…

Giant Killing Bantams…

Not many would have given Bradford a chance against Premier League Wigan Athletic in the League Cup Fourth Round on Tuesday night but the Bantams did themselves and League Two proud by taking the Latics all the way to penalties before dumping them out of the competition and progressing through to a mouth-watering Quarter Final clash with Arsenal at Valley Parade. Former Cobblers loanee Matt Duke was the spot kick hero as he saved from Jordi Gomez to send his side into the last eight.

City back at Sixfields after single goal win…

In what was widely regarded as the worst game of the season so far involving the Cobblers, Bradford went home with all three points ten days ago as Nahki Wells scored the only goal of a scrappy contest to keep Bradford in the running at the right end of League Two. Their only other league game since then was a 1-0 defeat at Burton Albion.


Duke…Sixfields return

Club Links…

City keeper Matt Duke was on loan with the Cobblers last season, playing nine games during our bid to avoid the drop. Despite only staying a short amount of time, Duke was a popular figure with Town fans.

Cobblers striker Louis Moult was on loan with Bradford in 2010, scoring once in ten outings with the Bantams.


Team News…

The Cobblers will, of course, be without Alex Nicholls who suffered a double leg break last weekend which is likely to keep him out for up to a year. John Johnson and Chris Hackett gave Aidy Boothroyd a timely boost this week, though, by returning to training and both could come straight back into the side. Ben Harding, Luke Guttridge and David Artell are still missing with Artell and Guttridge not expected back until the New Year.

Bradford have their own problems with defender Andrew Davies facing four months on the sidelines after he picked up a knee injury during the game at Burton last weekend. Fellow defender Luke Oliver is another set for a long spell out after he picked up an Achilles injury in the same match. Nahki Wells, Rory McArdle and Zavon Hines all face late fitness tests after picking up knocks in the win at Wigan on Tuesday.


The Man in the Middle…

The referee for this cup tie is Stephen Bratt. Bratt hasn’t taken charge of a Cobblers game since 2009 in a 2-1 home win over Hereford United.



After Tuesday night’s exploits many hopes will lie with Bradford not being ready for the game that comes ‘after the lord mayor’s show’ but City were the first visitors to Sixfields after our big win at Anfield in the same competition and we ended up winning that one! We need to manoeuvre around Alex Nicholls’ injury and Louis Moult will be the one in focus if he starts with Bayo. I’m going for a more entertaining game than last time out against the Bantams and I’ll go for the Cobblers progressing to Round Two with a hearty 2-1 win.