Sunday, 14 January 2018

#71 Longwell Green Communuty Stadium, Longwell Green Sports

Longwell Green Sports 1 - Bitton 5 
Tuesday 26th December 2017, Western League Premier Division

Ahh the Boxing Day fixture. A chance for those of us that can muster the energy to stand around in the cold, attempting to focus on the match while secreting a noxious, gravy-tinged discharge from every pore. Deciding early-on that I wouldn't engage with a return trip to Walsall's Bescot Stadium to watch Rovers, I'd settled on a mere 5.5 mile jaunt to local Western First Division side Almondsbury to watch them take on Roman Glass St. George. This was scuppered however by heavy drizzle throughout most of Christmas Day itself which caused the game to be called off. Unfortunately for me, I had engaged in my usual Christmas tradition of staying up all night drinking, ingesting garbage and ruining EastEnders for my wife by howling with laughter at this year's improbable mass death. As I result, I didn't learn about this postponement until around 11 o'clock and the only reasonable not called-off alternative was kicking off at 12. So with bleary eyes and a bad head I set off for the East Bristol suburb of Longwell Green.

Although it was a last-minute change of plan I was pretty happy to be going to Longwell Green for shamefully voyeuristic reasons, namely the fact that the side were without a win so far in the entire 2017-18 season. In fact, over 22 matches played they had acquired a grand total of 2 points and a goal difference of -62. This struck me as pretty remarkable and I'd had the club on my to-do list for some time, A: because I couldn't imagine what they were doing to obtain a record like that other than all the players running headlong into each other after kick-off, and B: because it would be great scenes to be in attendance for the first time they nabbed 3 points during the current campaign. Of course I'd already seen Paulton Rovers U18s who weren't only winless but pointless to boot, so how bad could they really be?


As previously mentioned I was pressed for time that afternoon and unfortunately it was one of those grounds where the postcode didn't quite get me to the right place. So after finding a quiet place to park, I scanned the skyline for floodlights and the sound of men swearing and romped towards them. I ended up getting to the local park which, as is the case with many recent additions to the 10th tier (Longwell obtained promotion to the Western Division One in 2005) contains a hastily ringed off rectangle containing the pitch and clubhouse, as is in the ground regulations at that level. This has varying degrees of success, not least in at Cadbury Heath where I spotted several places a person could sidle in and Welton Rovers where the village playground is mere inches from the ground boundary with only a waist-high brick wall interrupting a perfect view of the pitch. This is used to great effect by many. Even today as I walked towards what I assumed was the entrance a dog-walker paused by the fence to eye the action for 10 minutes or so. Perhaps he was on a one-man boycott, refusing to enter the ground until the club had turned things around but unable to drag himself away completely, like a tinpot South Glos version of Coventry when they were at Sixfields.     

The exterior of Longwell Green Community Stadium is very much the archetypal small town community center, the entrance to the football ground sandwiched between a Scout hut and a modern church building. The place was originally farmland that was given over to the staff of Longwell Green Coachworks, who opted to form a club in 1966 in the wake of England's World Cup triumph. Their greatest success was in 2008-09 when they finished as runners up in the Western League Division One and went up as a result. Other than that they've reached the second round of the FA Vase on two occasions and were Bristol & District League Senior Division champions in 1991–92. Although it's a far-cry from the farmland it once was, Longwell Green Community Stadium is still a fairly spartan ground. There are two metal covered stands, one with four rows of fold-down seats in blue and white and another right next to it which is half the length and holds a standing metal terrace. That's all there is. The rest of the ground is just railing and two painted blue brick dugouts. 

As I took my place behind the goal, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth these lads could be arsed. I was feeling very woozy under the effort of just standing outside and watching their Christmas lunch paunches sway in the breeze, imagine playing! It was a pretty cold one as well but mercifully the rain had left us alone for the afternoon. Some of the players seemed to be looking to just get through the afternoon with as little fuss as possible, as evidenced by one lad that went absolutely ballistic at an opposition player for clearing a ball into the opposite field early doors. I would've been happy for the momentary break personally. It's true there's no such thing as an easy game, especially on a cold boxing day but Bitton certainly would've fancied themselves considering the record of their opposition.

I was expecting wanton incompetence from Longwell Green but they're an industrious side who mark and defend decently enough but are severely lacking when it comes to strength in possession and creativity. Despite keeping things even for 35 minutes and forcing a few weak saves, Longwell do eventually concede as Best shoots low past the diving fingers of the goalie. Bitton make it two on 43 as the ball is passed from near the corner flag into a mostly empty box, well, empty of Longwell players anyway. There were, if I recall correctly, three Bitton players waiting in the box for the man by the flag (who was being kept onside by his marker) to put in the cross which Baker diverted into the goal, making my earlier comments about Longwell's defending seem a bit premature.

After a quick pint in the packed out clubhouse, I took a spot on the metal terrace for the second half. It was from here that I overheard the mad statistic that Longwell have fielded 54 (fifty four) players over this half season. Truly a mind-boggling feat which one would assume leaves the hope of getting any consistency on the pitch a far-off dream. This lack of organisation is highlighted in spectacular fashion when their goalkeeper tries to dribble the ball outside his area instead of going for a clearance and is dispossessed, allowing a Best to walk it into an open goal for his brace. I decide at this point that's it for them and it's just a matter of how many get let in now.

However they do claw one back, a somewhat fortunate nod in at the near post from a corner, to much rejoicing. A dogged period of resistance following Bittons third goal ensues where the home team see a bit more of the ball and create a couple of chances but it's short lived and Bitton score two more in the closing 15 minutes. At this point most people around me shuffled of home for some turkey sandwiches and I was left to contemplate the passing of another successful year of groundhopping. Here's to many more.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

#70 The Athletic Ground, Paulton Rovers

Paulton Rovers U18s 0 - Yate Town U18s 7 (Seven)
Thursday 21st December 2017, Somerset Youth Floodlight League Premier Division

Somerset Youth Floodlight League. Are there any words more thrilling to the human soul? The chance for the festively-stretched (in terms of time, not waistline, that came later) football ground enthusiast to take in various west country stadiums on a Thursday evening(!) at a knock-down price. Perhaps more importantly, a competition for the top non-league clubs of Somerset, Bristol and South Glos to bash their youth teams against each other like an angry toddler with a new set of WWE figures. Having never really enjoyed playing football myself at school, I have to give a doff of the cap to these young lads who will have no doubt come in after a long day at school, had a stodgy meal shoved down them by a doting parent, been ferried to a strange Somerset town in a rickety minibus and finally shoved out onto a cold pitch to play 90 minutes for a dozen (if they're lucky) overly-enthusiastic dads and club lifers who love nothing more than to bark instructions from the stands. Nevertheless, it's something that all budding footballers must go through and no doubt something they'll look back on fondly in later life whether they make it as players or not. 

Still if you must go to a SYFL fixture, Paulton Rovers have one of the plushier grounds in the league and the clubhouse edges out the village pub in terms of space and bar facilities. There was also no gaggle of jeans and shoes wearing young men shouting about Bristol City in the clubhouse (because there was no one in there at all but still). I was surprised by the professional touches throughout the place, not least the small TV screens they had behind the bar scrolling through fixtures for the senior team, the youth team and even the netball team. Eat your heart out Beşiktaş. Inside, the ground is similarly well-equipped and comfortable. Again it's nothing fancy, just simple things done right. When approaching the turnstiles from outside you can see the iron roof of a slightly raised 4-step covered terrace that spans the entire end of the pitch. A similar stand, albeit at ground level, runs along roughly one-half of the edge of the pitch up to the team benches. This has one step of terracing which extends out of the covered area. The end opposite the raised terrace is empty, save for the gated entrance to the netball... rink? Maybe I should check out a netball bout during the off season.

On the remaining side there's a ground-level stand with four rows of fold-down seats. A rather bog standard, temporary looking thing that you see at many non-league grounds. Next to this though is a brick, raised main stand accessed by stairs. This has another four rows of seats, in three colour banks, under cover. It's affords a decent view with only some pillar obstruction. Your obligatory quirky feature is the strange bungalow clubhouse, half coated in sky blue wooden panelling, half pastel orange plaster, which backs onto a stand-less section of the turnstile side. It looks like the fanciest property on the beach front in some Floridian retirement community. All in all The Athletic Ground is a very tidy facility indeed, I'd say the only better step 4 grounds I've seen are Marston Road and the Ray Mac, neither of which are fair comparisons because both are former Conference Premier venues. 

Considering Paulton has a population of just over 5,000, the Rovers are doing pretty well for themselves. This may be in part due to the windfall the club will have come into during the 2009-10 FA Cup where they overcame Bideford, Tiverton Town, Didcot Town, the then Conference South Newport County and Chippenham Town to get to the first round of the competition. Luck did not smile on them in the competition proper however and they were trounced 7-0 at home by League One Norwich City. Not before they'd got a bumper crowd of 2,070 and the TV cameras through the doors however. This season's cup run was also a memorable one for them as well, narrowly losing 2-3 to Sutton United in the fourth round qualifying. Whether this had much of an impact in the long run I don't know for sure but I do know they've come a long way from being a Western League yo-yo club with an old RAF shed for a stand (no really). Rovers spent two seasons in the Southern Premier, their highest ever level, after beating the reformed Merthyr Town in the 2013-14 play-offs. They have since been relegated back down to the Southern West where we find them today.

I wandered out onto the near terrace as one of what I would estimate to be a 15-strong crowd. This gave me lots of space to myself, allowing me to take photos and hunt for Sutton United stickers without feeling like a weirdo. Yate were really the dominant force during the opening 10 minutes, missing the opportunity to drive their first shot past Paulton's Rod Flanders look-alike goalkeeper by mere inches in the 8th minute. Soon after this Rod denied a marauding Yate forward, bravely putting his body on the line to block the close-range effort. A few of the aforementioned overly-enthusiastic dads began hooting instructions from the main stand at this point and an attempted tactical adjustment lead to the following delightful exchange:


*long pause*

Louie (despondently): ""    

A hairstyle challenger approaches

It must be difficult at such a tender age to be on show like this and no-one in the ground that night would have a tougher night than our Rod, who conceded the first goal at around 21 minutes. It was a similar effort to the one he'd saved earlier but from the opposite corner of the 6-yard box. He got down in time but the ball went just wide of him on the muddy surface. Unlucky. Two minutes later Yate strike a rocket from midfield and rattle the crossbar, Rod sensibly commits to this, possibly whilst reaffirming his faith in an all-loving god but unfortunately the ball is already bouncing it's way toward being the perfect second ball for an ensuing Yate player. It was hard not to feel sorry for the lad as wadded to retrieve the ball from his net, muttering about the horrendous condition of his goal area thanks to the December weather. I wouldn't have thrived in youth football.

On the half, Yate make it three with a similar move to the first goal. I learn that Rod's name is in fact Ollie when a young girl holding her Dad's hand walks past and remarks: "Ugh! Look at Ollie's goal. It's like a pig pen..." Still in the first half, Yate slide a cross into the centre of the box which skims it's way past the entire Paulton defence, allowing a free Yate player to smash the ball past a diving Ollie for Yate's fourth. If it sounds like I'm ragging on Ollie during this report I'm really not. The poor lad didn't have much of a chance for any of the goals once the pitch and his defenders had their influence. It may be because I was stood behind him or (more likely in my opinion) his woes took me back to my own miserable afternoons between the sticks for inter-tutor football, being shouted at by meatheads with names like Jayden, Kye and Spud but I was silently willing him to keep his head up all game. To add weight to his complaints, one of a pair of Yate players who were practising distance shots during half time cried: "How the fuck are you meant to move through that!" as he retrieved his mate's shot. It should not be thought that their goal mouth was the thing stopping Paulton from having a decent crack at the game however. Yate were their better in pretty much every aspect. I don't want to harshly criticize children on these pages so I'll just say that Paulton's point free season thus far in the SYFL Premier (which includes a 2 - 12 defeat against Weston-super-Mare and a 0 - 16 defeat against Radstock, both at home) is evidence enough that there's a lot of work to be done. 

Weirdly enough the other goal mouth was looking a lot healthier so as I changed ends to show solidarity with my new best mate, I thought that Paulton may yet have a shot at restoring some honour if they brightened up for the second half. This didn't materialise and despite some nice Paulton moves including a nutmeg and a fine diving save by Ollie (#OllieUltras), Yate continued to press and look dangerous. This culminated in the visitors fifth goal at about 65 minutes. A ball that the entire Paulton defence thought had gone out of play was deftly crossed into the middle from the goal line, just right for the grateful head of a Yate player to nod home. Nothing special but a great advert for playing until the flag's raised. Mind you when you're 5-0 up it's hard to care too much about how pretty the goals were and they weren't done yet, a sixth is scored as a result of a one-on-one from a midfield through-ball.

It doesn't get any better during the closing minutes of the game as the drizzle starts in earnest and Yate are winning corner after corner. The visitor's seventh and final goal is also probably the worst one to concede on Paulton's part, a goal-bound lob that trickles in over Ollie's fingertips when he doesn't jump high enough. Another bruising night for the Rovers youngsters but I'm sure it builds character, or something. Let's hope they can get those psychologically important first points under their belts soon and have a good run in the league cup which they're somehow still in. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

#69 Ewood Park, Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn Rovers 2 Bristol Rovers 1 
Saturday 25th of November 2017, League One

Very much against my better judgement, I was heading up to Lancashire for my 5th competitive Bristol Rovers away game of the season. Similar to my trip to Accrington Stanley two years ago I would be staying with and attending the match with my Croston-based pal Jake "Nash" Hilton, a Blackburn Rovers fan. His mum Sam was kind enough to give us a lift to The Brown Cow, a local hostelry a mere 7 minute walk from Ewood Park. Sam was having a very productive morning rustling up balls for her husband Kev's charity Balls To MS. For some time now Kev and Sam have been travelling around the country soliciting balls (quiet in the back) and other signed sporting paraphernalia which will ultimately be auctioned off to raise funds for The MS Society. Kev was spending the day manfully braving the chill at Fleetwood Town, taking in their bore draw with Doncaster Rovers. Meanwhile while we were in the car Sam received a call from none-other than former World Cup winner Ben Kay offering an England rugby ball for the cause. The players apparently were very keen to beat the number of signatures that their Welsh rivals gave when they did the same. As anyone that knows me can attest, I don't give a solitary hoot about the old oval ball but it was still a lovely gesture.

We had a pint in The Brown Cow and watched a bit of Barnsley failing to get back into a game against Leeds on the telly. As with most traditionally placed town center grounds, Ewood is well served by pubs and we had plenty of space the whole time. I suppose a lot of the reason for this is that Blackburn's average attendance has been half of what it was in those heady mid-90s days when Kenny Dalglish and, uh, Tim Sherwood... led the Blue and Whites to Premier League glory. Four seasons later they were relegated after coming 19th out of 20 and winning only seven games. They bounced back in two seasons and spent the next decade happily mid-table, winning the Football League Cup in 2002. In 2010 Rovers were taken over by Indian conglomerate Venky's, who immediately sacked (relatively) popular manager Sam Allardyce and replaced him with the relatively-obscure Steve Kean, allegedly at the behest of legendarily bent agent Jerome Anderson. 

Kean's tenure was apocalyptically bad and featured low points such as Kean signing an improved contract while Rovers were bottom of the league then insisting to a baffled local press that now wasn't the time to discuss contracts and admitting to forfeiting a League Cup game for the sake of league form. Things got so bad for Kean that even former Home Secretary and MP for Blackburn Jack Straw was publicly calling for his head. In contrast to his willingness to keep going on Newsnight and make a tit of himself, this proved to be a rare moment of good judgement for Straw as Kean did indeed preside over the end of Blackburn's 11 year stay in the Premier League on the 7th of May 2012 when they lost to Wigan at Ewood Park. No representative from Venky's was in attendance. Kean moved on to a no-doubt lucrative job coaching the personal team of Brunei's Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, whereas five seasons and six managers later, Blackburn were relegated to the third tier for the first time since 1970–1971. This is really only a brief overview of some of the actions that have turned fans so strongly against Venky's and lead sections of the press to dub them "corporate vandals" but I'll leave those interested to look into the debacle themselves. 

These are the circumstances that led to the BRFC derby (as I'm calling it) being played for the first time since March 1992 during Bristol Rovers' unlikely spell in the second tier under Gerry Francis (and some other, less good managers). As such a crowd of over 1000 Gasheads decided to ignore our poor form and venture out to this rare and exotic ground. The idiots. As we passed through Alan Shearer Way in the cold Lancashire air, the impressive stadium rose into view in the skyline. It's not difficult to envision the roads crammed with throngs of eager supporters just seven short years ago but as we got close they were still noticeably sparse, as were the stands inside. Points of interest outside the ground include a memorial to former chairman and "greatest fan" Jack Walker, a local steel magnate who provided much of the funding and materials for their Premier League charge and stadium upgrades. There's also a small memorial garden for Rovers fans that have passed on behind the Blackburn End, a club shop, a season ticket holders only bar and a beer tent for the riff-raff.

Inside the stadium is a picture of modernity with identically tall two tier seated stands on three sides. The Ronnie Clayton Blackburn and Bryan Douglas Darwen Ends are identical to one another with the slightly smaller upper sections acting as family areas, shielding whippersnappers from the hearty Northwestern match-day vitriol below. We were in the lower stand of the Ronnie Clayton End which Wikipedia informs me "houses some of the most passionate Rovers supporters [citation needed]". Maybe a few seasons ago this was the case but today our only companions were a trio of grim-faced men and their grim-faced young son, who snidely remarked that he didn't recognise our faces from the previous home games when Nash joined in with the singing. Tough crowd! This brought my companion down a bit and he remarked that it wasn't like this when he was a regular as a child with his mum. I suggested we move up a few rows as the stand was pretty empty and this proved a good move as we found ourselves surrounded by a jollier cross-section of fans. This cheered Nash up immensely as he could now participate without being chastised but the downside of this was we were now right in front of the end of the stand's windblocker and thus in a kind of funnel which fired the frosty afternoon air directly at us. It still wasn't as cold as Accrington though.  

The main stand of Ewood Park is the Jack Walker Stand which stretches along one side of the pitch. It's basically the same as the two ends except the top-tier is the larger tier and there's a row of hospitality boxes separating them. Opposite this is the Riverside Stand, very aptly named as it sits about an arm-span's length away from the River, which was today positively raging due to the heavy rainfall. A bold choice which hopefully Rovers won't live to regret. Built in 1988 this is the oldest part of the ground and the only single-tier stand. In comparison to the other ultra-modern stands it does hold some vintage charm with it's red and blue banks of seats and it's low, pillared roof. I believe every ground should have at least one stand like this, if only to slow the march of the identikit. There are plans to rebuild and extend the Riverside Stand but it depends on attendances increasing and presumably global warming being halted. This blog is already too long so I won't discuss how the ground has been rebuilt over the years but I would recommend this account.

The match itself turned out to be a pleasing affair for both parties. I'd expected an absolute tonking and came away feeling robbed of a point. It was a much better away performance than I'd been used to this season from my Rovers and we benefited from having Billy Bodin back from injury as well as an inspired decision from Darrell Clarke to play defender Joe Partington in the middle of a 4-1-3-2 formation. It was in fact Bristol Rovers that rattled the net first, a none-to-pretty but dogged midfield battle was eventually won through a succession of sideways passes until the ball was at the feet of Bodin who turned on the style to circumnavigate his marker and cross to Leadbitter on the wing. Ollie Clarke headed the ball down, it took a deflection off of a Blackburn defender and Clarke pounced forward to smash it home. The players ran half the length of the pitch in celebration before it was called for offside. Annoying. The only player in an offside position was Ellis Harrison who wasn't anywhere near the ball. Mustn't get too hung up on it but the referee should be doing better in League One. Mind you Blackburn felt they were entitled to a penalty after a rather vigorous tackle from Gas keeper Adam Smith so maybe things evened out.

Still in the first half, Bristol Rovers were again denied as Lee Brown ran onto a lofted forward pass from Chris Lines. He worked this into the box and crossed for Billy Bodin to head the ball into the crossbar. Argh! Right out of the blocks in the second half Blackburn looked sure to score when Bradley Dack ran into a point-blank one-on-one situation with Smith after a cross from inside the box but got the angle all wrong and it rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick. Finally after 58 minutes the scoring opened as Ellis Harrison was played in and made his way up to the edge of the opposition box. After a brief stand off with a defender he tiptoed a few steps to the right of his marker and curled in a low shot that bounced past the diving fingertips of David Raya. The Welshman's 7th in all competitions this season. The end of the stadium opposite us erupted but I could only turn with a smug smile to Nash by way of subtle celebration. We'd deserved the lead for once.

Never ones to make things simple for ourselves, Bristol Rovers gave away a penalty just three minutes later as Tom Lockyer barged into the back of Dominic Samuel in the box. Captain Charlie Mulgrew coolly plowed this into the top corner and the score was leveled. Minutes later it was Tom Broadbent's turn to clatter an opposition player as Danny Graham was taken down on the wing about 25 yards out. The former Sunderland misfit put in a lovely free kick that floated kindly for it's many suitors but in the end it was headed just wide. After coming down expecting a big loss, I was now gripping my seat praying to any deities that might be listening for us to hang on for the important point towards keeping our heads above water in what might easily turn into a relegation scrap before much longer. Sadly though I must not have acquired enough good boy points that week as it took only five minutes for Blackburn to take the lead. Blackburn hoofed the ball from midfield, to box and back out to wing where Derrick Williams had enough time to set up the perfect cross for Samuel's mighty bonce to nod past the flailing Smith. In the immortal words of Ned Flanders: Aw, hell, diddly-ding-dong crap! Darrell stuck on Tom Nichols and Rory Gaffney to chase the game but the only other attempt of note was a bullet shot from the D by Liam Sercombe which was ably saved by Raya. 

Much like the shafted runner-up of The Weakest Link, we were once again leaving with nothing despite answering a lot of difficult questions from our opponents. The upside of feeling a bit robbed was the feeling that, for once, we'd put in a good away shift and this was something to build on against Rotherham at home next week. Meanwhile I had a pub crawl in Croston to look forward to. Thanks again to Nash, Sam and Kev for putting up with me and be sure to check out Balls to MS.

God bless the north.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

#68 Thornhill Park, Slimbridge AFC

Slimbridge AFC 1 Yate Town 5 
Wednesday 15th of November 2017, Southern League Division One West

Knowing I would soon be consumed by the ever-demanding festive social calendar, I was Gloucestershire-bound on this chilly Wednesday night for a Southern League clash between the Swans of Slimbridge and the Bluebells of Yate. With just under a third of the season gone, Slimbridge sit in 11th place and Yate in 16th.

As I pulled into the neighbouring business park that the club use as a car park, the familiar smell of organic bovine plant nutrients wafted daintily on the evening breeze. As I approached the entrance I noticed a small steaming lump just by the 'Welcome to Slimbridge AFC' sign. Surely, I thought, there's no way the club's custodians would solicit a local cow equivalent of Paul the Octopus to come and "bless" the ground before kick-off. I was relieved to discover as I drew close that it was actually someone's discarded fag. 

Slimbridge were formed in 1902 and play in the nearby village of Cambridge, after former player and president Evi Thornhill bequeathed land to the club in his will. In 2001-02 Slimbridge made the step up to the Gloucestershire County League and achieved double promotions to the Hellenic Premier. After four successful years in the top division, the last of which they finished as champions, the club suddenly announced they would be resigning from their place in the Southern League before a ball was even kicked, citing commitment issues. The first team took the place of their reserves in the slightly obscure Gloucestershire Northern Senior League (level 12) and rapidly made their way back up to where they had been in just eight seasons.

Yate are the more established Southern League side, this being their 26th season in the competition and their 9th consecutive in Division One after being relegated from the Premier in 2008/09. In 2012/13 they reached the first round of the FA Cup where the lost 3-0 away to Cheltenham Town.

Thornhill Park is quite a sparse little ground which wouldn't look out of place in the Western League, possibly a result of their aforementioned setback. There's a long covered seated stand across one side with four rows of seats and a small section of covered standing behind the goal nearest the clubhouse. That's it. There is, as appears to be a recurring theme in the Southern League, a large porch that extends out from the clubhouse which was quite popular. It doesn't have anything on the Frome Town überporsch though. I also particularly enjoyed Slimbridge's effort in ensuring their ground is enclosed, as is Southern League standard:

"They're football fans, you dolt! They don't plot, they don't scheme, AND THEY ARE NOT ORGANIZED!"
With the Bluebells and the Swans in resplendent yellow and blue shirts respectively (just to be perfectly confusing) the game kicked off. Both teams have opportunities in a very open first period. Yate force a low gather from the home keeper early doors and a Slimbridge defender had to take responsibility of punting away a powerful shot from close range as he blocked his keeper's view. A Slimbridge forward made a sumptuous run that beat many defenders but suffered a hamstring pull just as he got clear and was subbed off.

Yate hammered home the opener on 22 minutes with Ben Brooks receiving the ball in the center of the pitch and proceeding to unleash a rocket into the top right which the Slimbridge goalie couldn't hope to meet, despite his prompt dive. Slimbridge do get a deserved equaliser in a bit of a turd way that wasn't quite representative of their decent efforts in the first half. A Yate defender fumbled the slippery ball between his feet near the goal, causing it to dart off into the path of a delighted Marley Thomas, who found himself in a 1-on-1 with the keeper which he didn't waste.

I retired to the clubhouse with a tea at half-time, which had a very old folks home vibe to it, even more so than usual for a non-league club. Just feast your eyes on that faux leather.

Oh baby.
Slimbridge immediately burst forward as the second half whistle is blown and notch a goal which was disallowed for offside. Hard to comment on whether that was a fair decision or not as I had moved behind the goal but I can confirm the players were furious. They followed this up with a daisy cutter which narrowly missed past the post.

The Swans continue to push hard for the lead but Yate break without warning and Mayson Evans got a shot away. Slimbridge breaths were held as it hit the inside of the post with a ting but it ricocheted kindly for the away team and sunk into the inner side netting.

It was at this point that I noticed that Slimbridge were a vastly shorter side compared to Yate and that this was causing problems for them. A notable example was a lofted cross from the left back up to his striker, which the latter failed to bring under his control prompting the following exchange:

Striker: "Argh! Whip it so I can get hold of it!" 
Left back: "Mate, I'm 100 yards away!"

Hoofing the ball wasn't working for Slimbridge but keeping it on the ground wasn't much better as Yate seemed physically stronger than their opponents to boot.

The home side's woes were compounded by another, more dubious flag offside and another Yate goal, an initial strike clattering off the crossbar and back out into play was easily tapped in by a well-placed Brooks. From this point on it really isn't Slimbridge's night. Their best opportunity of the second half was denied by Yate's keeper as he masterfully pushed the powerful 1-on-1 strike behind his goal. The resulting corner yeilds a shot on target from midfield but it's blocked by a Yate body in the box. Other than this moment they spend much of the second half on the defensive, looking particularly vulnerable when Yate break.  

Despite the protestations from the Yate goalkeeper for his players to hold their areas and see the game out, Yate charge forward and add another goal. Brooks gets his hat-trick through an easy-as-you-like cross from wing to box.

At the time I didn't feel like Slimbridge quite deserved this pummeling but they certainly didn't deserve to win either and a lot of their fans sounded pretty fatalistic about the whole affair since as early as the second Yate goal. Just as I'm mulling this over, Yate make it 5-1, with Steve Davies banging one in from a very sharp angle indeed. They're taking the piss now. This came minutes after Swans are almost taken apart by a mistimed pass-back between their midfield which allowed Yate to break.

Bad times indeed for the Stroud side. Having just conceded 5 against Evesham the Saturday prior they went on to ship 8 (eight) goals against Wimborne Town the weekend following this loss. Lets hope things pick up for them soon.