Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Road to Wembley #5

This FA Cup Third Round Qualifying tie between Sporting Khalsa Women and Lincoln City Women will be the first game of the competition this season my partner Ben has attended with me. Besides enjoying a day out with him, he also drives meaning for this game I didn't have to get public transport. Unfortunately you won't be reading about any convoluted train journeys this time. Apologies.

So, how should I fill the first section of this post up? I could describe our shopping trip to Morrisons pre-game or perhaps even recount our pre-match walk or what sweets we decided to buy. I'm just taking a guess though, that you might not want to hear about those, so I'm going to risk it and use this opportunity to air my thoughts on a recent graphic that has been doing the rounds on social media comparing the prize money in each round of the men's and women's FA Cup. If you do want to know what sweets we bought and aren't fussed about what I think about the prize money, then they were 'clear fruits' and you should probably skip the next three paragraphs.

I am not at all shocked by how low the women's prize money is in comparison to their male counterparts, but instead, disappointed. A lot of the comments on various threads are from people saying either the attendances aren't there and therefore not generating the revenue to justify higher prize money or saying the standard of women's football isn't 'good enough' to justify higher prize money.

Without breaking into too much detail and turning this blog post into something it's not, I will keep my thoughts brief. Basically, I see it that if there is very little money injected into to the women's game, especially levels lower than the Barclay's FAWSL (the only women's fully professional league in England), then how will the game ever develop/ progress at a reasonable pace and improve standard and therefore attendances? Surely this makes a case for increasing the money? I'm not even talking about equal prize money here. If the clubs had more money, this would inevitably improve facilities and coaching, resulting in a 'better' standard of play, equaling higher attendances and money justifiable. I feel we're at a perfect time now to introduce more money into the game, because there's definitely an increased interest after the success of the WWC during the summer. This is proven through recent record attendances at various levels across the women's game and of course selling out Wembley Stadium for the Lionesses friendly against Germany in November. Now is exactly the time there should be investment, or the momentum it has been building might fall, especially if the game doesn't progress any further or not at a fast enough pace.

As for attendances, in my experience they tend to vary depending on how well the clubs do with promotion on social media and in the local area. For example, in the first game of this competition I attended this season there were over 170 in attendance which was a lot for that level (tier six), though in this round there were approximately 25. A lot of clubs lower down the pyramid do not charge entry either, though some put a small price for spectators.

Sporting Khalsa is a club which isn't named after the place it is situated. It is on the outskirts of a small market town called Willenhall, located somewhere between the M6 and Wolverhampton. It is mainly known for it's lock and key industry. The town centre has a lot of paraphernalia related to this, including a workers' memorial and a giant mural of a lock.

The lock mural in the town centre
Without having done any 'proper' research before heading down the M6 to The Aspray Arena, we did not realise that it was an artificial pitch before paying our £3 admission and entering into the ground. This was a slight disappointment, because it's usually best to leave these kind of grounds for a bad weather day when everything else is waterlogged and postponed! Nevertheless, at least this game was definitely 'on' and in contrast to a lot of other 3G grounds, it had plenty of character. This is mainly due to to a refurbishment which happened during the 2017-18 season, which upgraded the then-current facilities without removing all the older characteristics of the ground. The main stand on the turnstile side was the original stand from when the ground used to belong to Willenhall Town, which Sporting Khalsa bought from them nine years ago when they went into financial difficulty. I spent some time chatting to Gary of 353 Photography who told us all sorts of useful history about the place. He was also the programme editor for the club, though unfortunately there was no programme for this game, but we did manage to obtain a team sheet.

The dugouts are unusual in the respect that they make up the front row of the main stand, cordoned off by a barrier separating the players from spectators. This is as far as I can remember, the only ground I've been to where the dugouts are part of the stand.

The main stand interior
The main stand exterior
As you can see from the pictures, the seats and ground are decorated with the clubs yellow and blue colours. The ground looks really bright and aesthetically pleasing. Besides the two main stands, there is no other terracing or covered areas. This isn't to say that you can't freely roam about: there is uncovered hard standing right the way around. Behind the goal opposite the clubhouse and changing rooms is a raised section. This allows for an elevated view and makes for a nice change of viewpoint throughout the game.

The other seated stand
This was always going to be a close match with both teams playing in the FA Women's National League Division 1 Midlands: Lincoln City fifth, just three places above Sporting Khalsa. The goalless first half displayed some very good football, especially from Khalsa who seemed to have the upper hand for the majority of the 45 minutes. They had the real first chance of the half, with the ball just shy of the net and bouncing off the post. Lincoln retaliated, though some good defending and goalkeeping from the home side halted Lincoln from scoring.

With October drawing to a close and the daylight diminishing thanks to the end of daylight saving going into this game, this was one of the first matches this season I had started to feel properly cold. This meant our usual half time routine of coffee was in order and off we went to the warm clubhouse to purchase our coffees for £1. To get to the clubhouse, you were to walk out of the ground and round, as the snack bar wasn't open for this game. On the way back around, I managed to spill some of my coffee as apparently walking 300 yards with a hot drink is difficult! In efforts to protect my camera from damage, the main victim of the spillage were my hands. Luckily I didn't get burnt and it actually did a nice job in warming my hands up! Still, I do not recommend...

Continued pressure by Sporting Khalsa continued into the second half, but Lincoln made a breakthrough around 15 minutes in. Around ten minutes after, Khalsa equalised, putting the two teams under pressure to score the winning goal. The hosts soon had another chance, but it strayed just wide of the post. Lincoln were the ones to break the deadlock and score another, putting themselves in the lead with a fantastic finish from a shot outside the box. Despite Khalsa's efforts, they didn't get another past the keeper and with a few minutes to go, Lincoln scored their third, sealing them a place in the next round of the cup.

Lincoln City demonstrated their lead over Sporting Khalsa in the league in this game with some excellent finishes and one can only admire them for that. As usual, best of luck to them in the next round and hopefully Sporting Khalsa will go into their next league game knowing they played some excellent football in this cup tie.

Sporting Khalsa seemed like a great community club, with a wealth of teams across all age groups for both females and males. It's facilities were excellent, housing various artificial pitches on the complex, with further developments on the cards.

Full photo set here.

Follow Sporting Khalsa Women on Twitter here and Lincoln City Women here.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Road to Wembley #4

You would think that leaving an Airbnb just outside Bristol at 9am would get me to Petersfield Park to witness the Second Round Qualifying clash between Cheltenham Town Ladies and Brislington LFC easily before the 2pm kick off? Well, in fact I was lucky to make the game at all, with a series of train cancellations doing anything to scupper my meticulously timed plan and stop me from attending. After a panic, some more walking, a bus ride and an almost two hour station wait, I finally boarded the 12:22 from Bristol Parkway to Cheltenham Spa. From there, the easiest option was to walk the 1.6 mile journey to the ground, arriving me at my destination just fifteen minutes before kick off for this somewhat local tie. They kicked off five minutes late, allowing me to take more photos beforehand and get a feel of the place.

One of the stands

The ground is the home ground of both Cheltenham Saracens FC and Cheltenham Town Ladies. It is situated approximately 30 minutes walk from the town centre. As I was pushed for time both there and back because of trains, I didn't take any photographs of the town, which I usually like to do when I visit a place. If my original train wasn't cancelled I would have got in around 11:15 which would have allowed me to look around Cheltenham first. Of course this wasn't the case, so I went straight from the station to ground which wasn't an especially scenic route, unless you like looking at massive Tesco supermarkets or reasonably average A roads. I can't say I do... 

The ground has two small seated stands and one covered standing section on one of the long sides. It has a compact clubhouse, which was filled with all the usual memorabilia and trophies, along with a snack bar and hot drink facilities. Coffee cost £1. The changing rooms were positioned just outside the ground near one corner in a separate building. The entry was £2, which included a programme. I was pleased about this, not because I'm an avid programme collector (I often don't bother with the things), but women's games especially lower down the leagues don't often issue a team sheet, let alone a programme so I must admit it was nice to receive one. The majority of the 80 spectators were already there when I arrived and the club had a friendly feel about it.

Despite picking this fixture over it's sheer convenience due to me being in the Bristol area at the weekend for the Western Hop the ground was a pleasant surprise. It was conveniently situated, just off the train route on the way back to Preston and for a ground I can't say has been on my radar or 'hit list', it by no means was a wasted or disappointing journey. There were more stands than I was expecting and the ground had a fair amount of character than the satellite version of Google Maps suggested. For bonus points, you can even see the Cotswolds if you are looking towards one of the goals, plus a train line running alongside the ground: a clear 'must visit' for all those who enjoy both trains and football! Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a photo with a train running past as they were few and far between.



With Cheltenham in third place of the FA Women's National League Division 1 South West and Brislington at the bottom of the table having lost all their matches so far, this tie was almost destined to go the host's way. Despite a few early chances holding Cheltenham in good stead for game, the visitors didn't make it easy and they too had their fair share of chances with a few shots going above the bar. Good defending too meant Cheltenham scored their first goal towards the end of the half at 39 minutes, with a brilliant free kick from Charlottle Criddle.

All change!

Brislington had the first real chance of the second half, which kicked off at ten past three. After a slow start, Cheltenham soon picked up the pace and kept the majority of possession. This half definitely showed the split between the two sides with Cheltenham looking extremely confident, bagging them their first goal of the half just 12 minutes in from a fierce strike by Georgia Brown. They scored again just two minutes after and then notched up a further two later in the half, resulting in a 5-0 victory at the whistle.

The win has Cheltenham going into the Third Round Qualifying, where they will take on Exeter in three weeks time on Sunday 27th October. This won't be the last time these two sides meet throughout the season, as they meet again in February next year.

The draw has been made and I'm already looking into a couple of options. Fingers crossed the travel will be easier..!

You can view the full photo set here.

You can follow Cheltenham Town Ladies on Twitter here and Brislington LFC here.

Friday, 4 October 2019

I Have NO Idea What this is Called

I've not written a post about animation on here for a while, so without further ado:

I went to the zoo recently with the intentions of filming more animal footage to animate over. As it was raining *all day*, I didn't get as much footage as I'd have hoped or liked, though I feel I still got some pretty useful stuff. Mostly of capybaras, mind... I think it should keep me occupied for a while, anyway.

I must admit, I have no idea what this animal is called. I just know it's super cute and felt like a good starting point. To the untrained eye, it's probably not that far removed from my usual work, though I will point out a vast difference: the addition or presence of markings/ colourings on the animal. My usual work often lacks any kind of shadow or shading and is often block colour. This is more a practical choice rather than a stylistic one, because it is usually down to lack of time. I like to try and complete one segment or clip of animation each week, because of a) discipline and b) an animation Instagram page won't look that great without much animation on it!

I do like what I have added here, as it definitely gives it more depth and characteristics than something without extra colour. Knowing that it has potential and clearly 'works' I would like to transfer this technique into more of projects, especially with the animated people, as sometimes they do look quite flat. It's not especially effected me thus far, though knowing adding what I have here makes me think I can create much more interesting imagery with a little extra work.

Elsewhere in my animated world, I animated my friend and collaborator Alan Livesey:

...And I also, after visiting a couple of portrait galleries of late, decided to do a few animated self portraits:

I think you are now update with pretty much most of my recent animation ventures, though don't forget to follow me on Instagram and Twitter if you like my work to stay super current and 'on trend'.