The Non-League Paper’s Diary of a Groundhopper: Ashford United

The Non-League Paper’s Diary of a Groundhopper – Saturday February 1: Ashford United 5 East Grinstead Town 0
Today is due to be a celebratory day. I have the bunting and party poppers ready to hand and the champagne on ice.
With my planned visit to Tonbridge Angels in National League South, I will have completed the top seven divisions of the English Pyramid. Add the next level down’s northern divisions and I total nine completions.
As The Fox and I near Tonbridge, I notice roadside fields are still very wet, so The Fox checks the Twittersphere. The match is still showing as on.

I park in the large car park at Darenth Avenue and settle down for a leisurely chat and a snooze in the sun. Stewards and players arrive, as do a few Wealdstone fans. The game is still going ahead as of 1.25pm. At 1.30pm, a player’s parent tells arriving teammates that the game is off!!!
So let me get this straight: a team that has had problems with its pitch suddenly decides it is unplayable at 1.30pm having had the whole morning to get an early inspection? Words fail me.
Fortunately, I have a back-up plan, which is immediately kick-started into action. Ashford United’s address is whacked into Jane SatNav and off I go. As usual when in a bit of a rush, I get stuck behind the slowest horse box in the world and then the slowest white van in the world!
I finally draw up at The Homelands Stadium, Kent, and join the queue to get into the large car park adjacent to the ground. It looks like it’s going to be a bumper crowd for this afternoon’s Isthmian League Division One South East fixture.
I pay £9 at the gate and another £2 for the glossy programme: The Nuts and Bolts Magazine. One reason I don’t like getting to a ground late is that there is always a queue at the refreshments window.
All the main facilities are along one side of the Ashford United ground. This includes the main stand and an adjacent marquee. The plush clubhouse is found at the rear.
It has windows overlooking the pitch and there are two covered terraces behind each goal where the opposing factions of supporters are gathering. I count seven East Grinstead fans, though no doubt there are more.
Ashford United are second in the table with the Wasps rooted at the very bottom. The early exchanges suggest the visitors are in for a drubbing. The Nuts and Bolts won’t let the Wasps out of their half – if only keeping wasps away from jam sandwiches and beer was as easy as keeping East Grinstead away from Ashford’s net!
The title contenders bag a couple of goals before the break but things get worse for the visitors after the interval when their hosts scramble a third.
To their credit, Grinstead play some decent football and threaten United’s goal several times, though a fourth for Ashford kills off any lingering hopes for the struggling side. Just like at Hastings a few weeks ago, a player for a team well on top stupidly gets himself sent off but it doesn’t prevent his side netting a fifth late on.
I managed a new ground today, so it could have been so worse. However, it wasn’t the satisfying celebration I was expecting. My champagne remains on ice.
Groundhopper ratings
Pre-Match info: 9
Welcome: 6
Facilities: 7
Food: 7
Charm: 5
Programme: 7
Home Team Respect: 5
Att: 269
Home Fans: 6
Match: 6.5
Overall Trip: 6
Officials: 9.5
Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on Sunday for the latest news and action from across Non-League over the last seven days.
As well as exclusive match reports and pictures from all of Saturday’s fixtures in the Vanarama National League, the BetVictor-Sponsored Isthmian League, Southern League and Northern Premier League, The Non-League Paper’s live coverage extends all the way to Steps 5 and 6.

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