Thursday, 9 November 2017

#67 Aspray Arena, Sporting Khalsa

Sporting Khalsa 3 Coventry United 0 
Saturday 4th of November 2017

After the previous day's disappointing capitulation, Daz and I retired for some consolation pints in *shudders* the UK's only remaining Hooters bar due to the fact that it was the closest bar to the train station. Despite this we still missed the last train to Beeston where Daz had parked and had to grab the tram. Tragically enough this was probably my favourite part of the evening as I love a tram. It was made all the more special by a chat with some local eccentrics who looked like they had just come back from a LARP/magic convention and kept referring to the station as "Beeston Intergalactic" for some unknown reason. Add to the mix that no one appeared to charge us for the journey and you can write that up as a fairly successful escape from Nottingham, allowing us to turn our attention to the second game of the weekend.

Sporting Khalsa have the honor of being, to my knowledge, the first British Asian football club (their formation in 1991 slightly edging out those of 1993's London APSA and 1996's Sporting Bengal United). The Sikh side began life in the Walsall & District Sunday Leagues, moving to the West Midlands (Regional) League for one season in 1996, dropping out, then rejoining in 2004 after a reorganisation. This proved a shrewd decision as the club gained promotion from Division Two to Division One in their first season and were able to purchase the Abbey Park Stadium after it was vacated by struggling Bloxwich Town. Within five years the ambitious club had outgrown Abbey Park and took up residence at Willenhall Town's Noose Lane when, once again, the previous owner's financial woes presented the opportunity.

The Lockmen and Khalsa were landlord and tenant for 4 years as the ground was redeveloped into the Aspray Arena before Willenhall moved on to Long Lane Park in Essington after a series of relegations. Pushing on again Khalsa were promoted into the Midland League Premier Division as champions. The following season in what was probably their finest hour to date, the club made it to the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup where a crowd of 2,252 watched them take on FC United of Manchester at the Aspray. With only mild handbags when some Wolves' baby squad decided to crash the party for two minutes, throw bins at some pensioners then leg it down the street as soon as the cops showed up. The season after they made it to the Quarter Finals of the FA Vase and this season will be looking to take things forward another level still by gaining promotion to the Northern Premier League. They started today's game in 3rd place with 12 wins in 14 unbeaten games.

Their opponents for the afternoon were 5th place Coventry United. United were formed only four years ago in protest, quite understandably in my view, by fans of Coventry City who decided that being asked to travel to Sixfields in Northampton for home games was a bridge too far and thought they'd have more luck starting from scratch than dealing with SISU and Arena Coventry Limited. Three promotions in three seasons sees them in the Midlands Premier and they have encroached on their shunned big brother already by taking over Coventry City Women and making their home in Butts Park Arena, much touted as the future home of the Football League club. The way things are going at the moment it's not inconceivable to envision the two meeting in Conference South within a decade. Obviously they don't have much in the way of history yet but they did once beat Polesworth 28 (twenty-eight) - 0.

Joining us on this chilly Walsall afternoon were our female companions (I know, surprising isn't it?) Becky and Sophie as well as our old uni pal Mikey Southan, a Wolves fan (bin throwing pedigree unknown) who is currently trying to get a play about groundhopping off the ground along with other less ambitious projects. We entered the ground and Mikey and the girls took seats in the main stand while Daz and I walked the perimeter taking pictures of floodlights, causing much pointing and laughter from our companions. In our defense the Aspray Arena is quite an attractive ground, despite clearly being a work-in-progress. The main stand is a massive metal barn with six pillars in front of rows of flamboyant custard yellow and azure seats. In lieu of team benches there are two sections of cordoned off seats in the actual stand for the substitutes to sit among the supporters. This wasn't used by feisty Khalsa manager Ian Rowe, who couldn't even be contained by his own technical area as he ventured back and forth between screaming at his bench and wading onto the pitch, even when his team were 2-0 up. In fairness it's not like anyone was going to be brave enough to tell him to stop. Up the top of the stand there is a large empty, flat section which a few people were using to stand. The view was pretty bad because of the roof though and I'm only 5'11 so I can't recommend it, unless Khalsa have an active short person ultras firm I don't know about.

Opposite this is a covered six step terrace used sparsely on this occasion by the away fans. It's set back quite far from the pitch and had a lot of timber and lose gravel in front of it, suggesting renovations are afoot. The Khalsa owners are on record as saying they ultimately want to turn the facility into a conference standard stadium and although they're quite far at the moment, they are blessed with space to build into that a lot of league clubs would snatch your left arm off for. Behind the goal near the entrance there are a number of rooms with signs like "Stadium Cafe" and "Hospitality Suite" above them, which sound fancy but are in reality small conservatories full of people enjoying tea and samosas. The facilities are basic but well done and the club are making the most of what they have. The only notable exception are the toilets which seem to be a work in progress as most cubicles have their doors and seats detached, leaving what Daz would describe as a "build your own" approach to toileting. The goal opposite this has nothing but a grass bank and as always some mad solitary fool who decided that was the best place to watch from on this chilly Black Country weekend. In terms of making the most of the facilities, Khalsa have wasted no space at the front of the ground, with five-a-side pitches, a martial arts gym and the pièce de résistance: the 4-4-2 bar and Indian restaurant all crammed in near the turnstiles. 

Indeed fair readers I can deny it no longer, a slap-up curry meal was a huge draw when it came to earmarking this ground and I'm pretty sure it's the only reason Becky deigned to make an appearance at all. Already I was wondering if Khalsa would best such culinary delights as the Aggborough pies or the banging full-Irish cooked for us by Lenny the kindly B&B owner back in Dundalk but I would have to wait until after the game to find out. Khalsa were wearing yellow shirts and blue shorts with similar luminosity to the seats while Cov rocked a Christmassy red top, green short combo. The whole effect was quite visually distressing, leading Mikey to remark that it looked like the nucleus of one of Neil Buchanan's Big Art Attacks. 

Shocking after only 4 minutes, Khalsa were gifted the opening goal when a deflected ball landed kindly for Kyle Brady who slotted in the one-on-one, sending the keeper the wrong way. This completely trashed my 71st minute first goal scored raffle ticket. Every United player around Brady was shouting for offside which makes me wonder if it was an offside trap gone wrong which credit where it's due is a brave thing to attempt at this level. United faffed around with it too much in their own half at one point during the first half, were dispossessed and were lucky not to be two down as Craig Bannister flashed a low ball across the face of goal which would've been a tap-in if anyone had got there in time. Mitch Piggon came closest to netting for the visitors in the first half as he a cross in the box but seemed to wrong-foot himself under pressure from a Khalsa defender and ended up missing his target. He made the effort to chase the ball and kept it in but was in such a poor position by then he could only smash it into the side netting. Piggon was in for a frustrating afternoon and managed to drive a great header just wide of the far post just before the end of the half. Khalsa played it defensive for the rest of the first half, so attention was turned to the linesman nearest us who ran with his arms stretched out behind him and his fists clenched like a big bald toddler. 

Mr. Frosty Tips
It was a very open second half with too many chances for both teams to list here but in the end it was Khalsa who would add two more goals before the end. Liam Holt skipped from a central position just outside the area into the top left of the pitch and crossed it past the United defenders around the goal for Bannister to kind of stamp it into the net from a tight angle. The small gaggle of Coventry old boys continued to shout encouragement right until the death, spurring Piggon to make yet another tantalising near-miss when he received a nice through-ball, sidestepped his defender and shot across the floor from an angle, going just wide at the far post because of a deflection. What a day for that lad who could've made it evens on his own had it been any other day. Still, near-misses don't win football games and the home team hadn't finished yet. In the 89th minute Holt received the ball dead centre about 25 yards out and decided he may as well have a crack. This looked to take everyone by surprise and the United goalkeeper could only watch as the shot slinked past him to guarantee victory for his opponents. 

Mission accomplished for the boys in yellow, it was time to dive into the bar and smash a curry. I went with a lamb jalfrezi which was bloody delightful. We spent a lovely evening chatting, drinking, watching West Ham get destroyed by Liverpool on telly and being confused by the 90s rave music that was periodically blasted out over the speakers. It felt good to have finally ticked this one off after having it on the list so far and to have caught up with Mikey after such a long time.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

#66 Meadow Lane, Notts County

Notts County 4 Bristol Rovers 2
Friday 3rd of November 2017, FA Cup First Round

Seemingly not satisfied with our seven game in three days bender last month, Daz and I were linking up again to take in a couple of games together, one in the East Midlands, one in the West like the suave cosmopolitans we are. The first match would be the FA Cup first round clash between Bristol Rovers and League Two leaders Notts County at Meadow Lane. Rovers had been in a bit of a slump of late, losing three league games in a row to Oxford United, the lowly Rochdale and worst of all from my point of view, a 4-0 tonking away at Shrewsbury Town. Some cheer had been returned by us overcoming MK Dons 2-0 on the weekend and losing to West Ham Academy in the annual quest to exit the EFL Trophy as early as possible. As an added bonus, misfiring striker Tom Nichols had managed to open his Rovers account with a goal in both games and would hopefully be high on confidence going into this match. I couldn't hand-on-heart claim the same however. With our league away record for the season standing at P8 | W2 | L6 (discounting the hard-fought 1-0 win at Craven Cottage in the League Cup) and my personal record standing at P12 | W2 | D3 | L7, it was hard not to feel fatalistic about an encounter with high-flying County, considering also our tendency to flop against lower league opposition. I don't however go to away games to see us win, I go to drink beer, shout and tick off grounds, so I dutifully piled into the Ram express leaving Bristol Parkway and we hit the road along with Duke and Andy Gale.

Notts County, as they like to frequently remind everyone, are the oldest professional football club in the world (the honour of being the oldest club in general belongs to Sheffield FC who play in the Northern Premier League). Formed in 1862, though anecdotally existing informally before even that, the club has played at Meadow Lane since 1910. Arguably their greatest claim to fame, other than the 1894 FA Cup, is the fact that they were the inspiration behind Italian Giants Juventus' black and white striped shirts. Perhaps befitting of a club that's been around for such a long time, the Magpies have had a wide variety of successful and not-so successful periods in the league. At present they are at the foot of an almost two decade long slump, having travelled from the old first division all the way down to League Two from the 1991-92 season onward, with only brief respites from fourth tier to third in a general downward spiral. The past two seasons in League Two haven't been too inspiring for them, finishing in 17th and 16th place but they appear to be breaking the juju this time around and have been in an automatic place since September.

The east midlands hasn't been a favourite haunt of Partizan Bristle since I started, to date I've only been to Northampton Town despite my mother originally hailing from the land of Robin Hood and scabs and my great aunt continuing to live as she always has in the village of Bunny (no really). As such I was looking forward to ticking off another classic league ground. One thing I hadn't realised was that the distance between Meadow Land and rivals Nottingham Forest's City Ground was quite literally gobbing distance. 300 yards and (perhaps just as well) the River Trent separate the two adversaries, beaten in the UK only by Dundee's Dens Park and Dundee United's Tannadice Park which in a testament to pure British obstinacy stand on the same road, with no watery barrier, a mere 200 yards apart.

After walking round and round the perimeter of the ground in opposite directions a couple of times, Daz and I eventually organised ourselves to the same location and went in. With an away attendance of 454 there was plenty of room to meander about, grab a drink and admire the opulent glossy posters featuring the complete record of meetings, goals and results between the two clubs stretching back all the way to our formation that Notts had stuck up all over the concourse. Thanks, I guess. Must be nice to have that much disposable income, most Rovers fans thought we were living fancy when the new board added the second tent.

We took our seats in the Jimmy Sirrel Stand next to the large strip of tarpaulin separating us from... several hundred empty seats. It seems the Friday kick-off to avoid a clash with Forest put off the extra 3.307 that County have been getting on average this season. Perhaps they were all at the last surviving Hooters in the country, conveniently located just across the road from the stadium like Daz was, the sexcase. Not much to say about such an old ground sadly as once again in conforming to the post-Taylor Report world it became another identikit stadium but if I had to sum it up I thought Daz's description as a "mini Molineux" was quite apt.

Out on the pitch Rovers unleashed a rare display of early dominance with Liam Sercombe netting in the 8th minute with an assist from Joe Partington. This was followed quickly by an even rarer beast, a Stuart Sinclair goal as the hirsute centre-mid headed home a Chris Lines corner in the 12th minute, dreamland! The small but jubilant crowd of County supporters behind the goal evidently took the advice of the travelling support and stuck their drum up their arse while the blue and white battalion enjoyed an unfamiliar period of tranquillity and confidence, even merrily discussing whether a celebratory slide down the tarpaulin would be worth the shattered limbs and the inevitable appearance on The Lad Bible. Sadly this was not to last. Pretty much immediately after Sinclair's goal, Notts County started getting forward more convincingly and like so many before them often completely bypassing the midfield, as former Champions League semi-finalist Alan Smith did with a cheeky back-heel moments after coming on under drunken screams of "YOU NEVER MADE IT" from Gale.      

The tide really turned in the 29th minute when Tom Broadbent brought down Shola Ameobi in the attacking half and Carl Dickinson curled the free-kick perfectly for Ryan Yates to stride past the ponderous Rovers defence and nod home. Not a minute later Yates drew the scores level by bundling a corner into the bottom corner of the net past an incapacitated, or possibly just crap Adam Smith, who was flopping about with his arm across his face as soon as the ball came in. That said, the veteran of weird racist orgies was far from the only man at fault, as other members of the Great Leak of Horfield positioned themselves too far away from the two men at the far post. There were suggestions of a kit-clash due to both sides wearing their half-white half-black/blue home kits in a night game but really if most of our lads can't pick out a set of quarters on a pitch by now questions need to be asked.

As I'm sure you can imagine, the atmosphere below ground during half-time wasn't the most jubilant. Really the very least you might expect from a professional football team playing another from the league below would be to defend a two-goal lead longer than 18 minutes. Although Daz and some others were treating it as though Rovers were essentially starting the game over again for the second half, I'd seen this pan out too many times to have any sort of hope. Only the bizarre faces of the Notts County stewards glaring at me from the bottom of the stand could cheer me up now.

Mullet goals

On 58 minutes the inevitable happened as the ball was lamped forward from the half way line up to the waiting and totally unmarked Jorge Grant, who trotted leisurely into the box and slid it across to Jon Stead who poked it past Smith for an easy home lead. The only resistance came from Broadbent who stuck his foot out but somehow didn't connect with the cross and Lee Brown he was level with Grant the whole time but apparently powerless to affect the shot in any way. Notts set off the drabbest flare ever and I gaze up to the sky and think about the life choices that lead me to this point. Having about as much will to continue as most of the crowd at this point, Rovers let in yet another goal in the 6th minute of injury time, as the ball was again played out to a home player in the corner in acres of space, this time Forrest loanee Jorge Grant, who skipped forward into a one-on-one with zero resistance and shot it past Smith, who couldn't seem to decide whether he should come out of goal and try and smother the attack or not, eventually tiptoeing forward and doing a little jump before falling to his knees and watching the ball over his shoulder.

Really I expected nothing from this game and only went along as a warm-up to the real football tomorrow in the form of Sporting Khalsa vs. Coventry United. I can't see myself heading out to another Rovers game until the great BRFC derby against Blackburn Rovers at the end of the month where hopefully some regrouping will have occurred in the meantime.  

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

#65 Greenbank Road, AEK Boco

AEK Boco Ladies 1 Ilminster Town Ladies 4
Sunday 29th October 2017, South West Women's Football League Premier Division 

It was a lazy dog-dangling afternoon in North Bristol. I spent the previous afternoon watching Rovers overcome MK Dons in a hard-fought and mostly quite dull 2-0 win at the Mem. With a totally free Sunday ahead of me I was in the mood for a nice simple local match. A pastie of a match, if you will. 

Although AEK Boco sound like one of those obscure Cypriot teams that get pummelled in the Champions League every year, they are in fact a Gloucestershire County League team from Hanham. They got their odd name when they formed in 2003 as a merger of two local youth sides named AEK Rangers and Boco Juniors (who were themselves named after the Argentinian Champions). They club focused on youth development and helped produce such household names as Julian Dicks, Mark Cooper and Paul Mardon. On the senior side of things Boco first joined the Gloucestershire County League in 2014-15 and immediately finished as runner-up in only their first season on goal difference. They built on this by winning the league the season after but didn't go up to the Western League, the ground is barren enough that it's hard to imagine they applied to. The club levelled out last season to a respectable mid-table 7th. As for the ladies team (or Bocettes, if you will) they won a double in 2015-16 where they finished the Gloucestershire County Womens Football League season as champions and overcame Abbeymead Rovers Ladies 8-0 at Oaklands Park to bag the Gordon Perrett Memorial Cup. The next season they finished as runners-up in the South West Women's Football League Eastern Division and moved up to the Premier where they find themselves today facing Somerset's Ilminster Town, or; the Ili Fillies (sorry).

There's not a lot to say about the ground, like many County League venues it's basically just a ringed-off field. The club house is a hulking grey beast with a surprising array of tightly-spaced metal bars making the whole thing look a bit like an old western jail. The shelves inside were absolutely crammed with trophies of every shape and size, which I suppose is a natural consequence of having a million youth teams like Boco do. As I popped in before the game to use the facilities, I was quickly set upon by a bald middle-aged man who, I presume jokingly, questioned me loudly on why I was taking my camera into the toilet. I engaged the tried and tested smile and back away technique and escaped unscathed. I would later overhear that this prince of Northavon had decided that the best way to enjoy this youth game would be to imbibe in four pints before kick-off, a method of soothing the ache of the previous night's revels in legendary Kingswood drinking establishment Chasers, so I suppose we have to let him off.

First contact with the natives survived, I trudged out to the pitch and was surprised to see the beginnings of a youth game taking place on the main pitch and some even younger whippersnappers having a kick-about on the other pitch below. Thinking I'd maybe gotten the wrong day, I dutifully started watching Bitton Youth vs presumably AEK Youth but who knows and saw a Bitton goal within the first 5 minutes. The aforementioned second pitch sits at the bottom of a steep grass verge so I was able to keep making the odd glance over to check the game I thought I'd be watching wasn't taking place down there. Eventually it did start and for a while I kind of stumbled around in a small circle trying to watch both games but that didn't really work so I headed down the hill for the women's kick-off.

Sitting on the grass bank for an elevated view was about as basic as it gets but I was quite enjoying getting back to football in it's most primitive form for the afternoon. I knew that my rival and colleague Daz Knapton would have a few words to say about how I wasn't allowed to count a field in our most-grounds-visited competition but I didn't care. The game kicked off and Ilminster looked threatening often during the opening exchanges but AEK's number 2, a center back, was tenacious in defense and kept her team square with their opponents by stamping out many a threatening attack, occasionally literally. Eventually though the home team were opened up when a Maisie Poole found space in the corner to whip in a cross that met Shannon Crouch so close to the goalmouth there was little hope for the keeper. This was celebrated with what seems to have become a staple in the women's game: an elaborate secret handshake.

As I watched the game I became aware of a man next to me who was periodically recording what sounded like commentary into a phone in what I'd guess was Spanish. It seemed unlikely that a Mediterranean Boco fan group had sent a reporter out to broadcast the game so he would have to remain a mystery. Being able to, as always, hear every verbal exchange on the pitch gave me insight as to how our female amateur players conducted themselves around their teammates. An impassioned cry of "Charlie, I'm over here bitch!" told me that it was pretty similar to the men's game.

The landscape which I'd considered too unremarkable to write about did actually come into play as Boco began using the grass slope to get a better run-up for trow-ins and as I had predicted from the get-go, we were visited by several stray balls from the main pitch. A return was attempted by one of the Ilminster subs but she shanked it so badly that it nearly ended up lamping an old couple sat on a picnic blanket. Later their male manager returned another with a mighty hoof which he seemed pleased with initially but his face turned to a frown before announcing to the small crowd "Oh. Wind took it..." so obviously that went awry as well. You can't get the staff.

Non-league tire swings
Boko tested the keeper with a long range free kick on minute 28 which started a much more positive passage of play from them. Things remained quite even for a while but after a sub for Town they find themselves in another one-on-one which was only denied when the AEK keeper managed to drop just at the right time to keep it out with her knees. These Higuitaian antics couldn't prevent Town netting their second in the 4th minute of the second half which at the time looked like it might have been an own goal. A corner came in and the last person I saw touch the ball after a brief tussle was Town's very tall number 7 winger who came on as a sub. It definitely changed direction after that though and Twitter helpfully informs me that "Dee" ended up tucking it away at the back post from a tight angle. Good on her. Turns out having moved to ground level I couldn't really see what was going on anymore. Also the ball kept bouncing out my way and I'd have to ham-fistedly palm it back to one of the players from the touchline or ferret around in the undergrowth for strays. I was so close to the action while doing this I ended-up feeling like someone's over keen parent/coach and had to resist the temptation to bellow "SQUEEEEEZE!" at random intervals.

Boco got their first meaningful chance of the second period from a corner that ended up being hit agonisingly just over the crossbar. To make matters worse, Ilminster immediately mounted an attack from the resultant goal kick and managed to hit the bottom of the crossbar. This seemed to encourage them and Town proceeded to produce a series of very threatening looking breaks and to be honest, as the game reached it's final third, the difference in quality was showing a bit. Town were able to spray the ball around well from midfield and control the resultant crosses with silky headers and chested down touches. They seemed quicker and trickier and by contrast a lot of the body blocking AEK did well at before the first goal just no longer payed dividends as their opponents skipped nimbly past.

However just when all seemed lost, AEK got themselves a free kick in the 80th minute. It was a tempting angle and distance for a right footed player to curl one into the box which the player that stepped-up did. Her direct attempt was saved but a teammate was on hand to tap in the rebound. This caused jubilation among the Boco players and a small but heated argument in the Town ranks. I wondered if that seed of discontent might let Boco back in to the game if they kept at it for the final ten.

Smelling an upset, AEK got everyone up for a corner in the 89th minute but the Town keeper rushed forward and punched the danger clear. Once again Boco found themselves caught out on the break and Crouch converted a one-on-one for her brace. Minutes later Poole notches a fourth from an angle against very little resistance. Ilminster seem so confident at this point that someone tries an overhead kick, which sadly wasn't to be a repeat of the heroics I'd previously seen from Fry Club earlier this year.

It had been quite an entertaining game and considering the cost of entry (bugger all) you may well see some more County League level reports on this here blog. For now though it was time to go home and prepare for yet another midlands double header on the weekend.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

#64 New Meadow, Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town 4 Bristol Rovers 0
Tuesday 17th October 2017, League One

Ahh, the great British midweek night game. What better chance for fans across the length and breadth of these green and pleasant isles to make those long and difficult trips into obscure parts in search of those all-important Super Fan Points™. My best effort so far was Bury away on a Tuesday night but this is paled by Gasheads I know who partook in feats such as 2015's infamous Hartlepool away on a Tuesday night. No, I have no earthly clue why the fixture people hate us so much. Although tonight's trip was indeed a Tuesday night game, a mere 2 and a half hour trip into Shopshire wouldn't be too much skin off anyone's nose and as my mate Matt (Gone for a Burton) had been given rare licence to roam due to it being his birthday, we decided to venture out. Joining us in the Burtmobile would be Gas girl wonder, Briony. 

We made a split-second decision to take the country roads instead of the motorway which turned out to be a prudent move as roadworks continued to wreak havoc across the midlands. This caused the cars full of other groups we knew getting caught up and arriving late, though in hindsight they might have been the lucky ones. Shropshire continues to baffle me by virtue of there being as far as I can tell no one living there. At no point did this feeling come to a head more than when we passed a lovely looking country pub with approximately one house within a mile radius of it. So either it has a lot of drunk driving patrons or is someone's personal pub. Now that's fancy living. 

The most scenic of roadside pisses.

Upon arrival in the town, we were advised by two policemen to park in a nearby garden center and walk to the ground from there, paying £5 for the privilege. As such we didn't have any time to examine our surroundings or look for pubs but it did look from our brisk walk that New Meadow is another out-of-town modern ground with not a lot going on around it. I stand to be corrected if I ever go again. As we were drawing close to the stadium, Briony announced that she had been in telephonic cahoots with none other than club president Wael Al-Qudi who was apparently waiting for us outside the away end. What a dark horse! It's true that El Presidente is no stranger to slumming it with us mortals on match day but this is the first time Matt or I had encountered him. He was a very polite and talkative chap who put up with our wide array of stupid questions admirably well. Fair play. 

As we chatted and waited for kick-off, the customary Weetabix missiles began sailing past, shattering into powdery, fibrous lumps upon contact with the cold concrete. As I can sense the raised eyebrows of readers that don't follow the Gas or Salop, allow me to shed some light on this strange practice. The Weetabix Derby as it is commonly known for obvious reasons refers in the modern era to meetings between Shrewsbury Town and Bristol Rovers, stretching back to when they were in their previous ground Gay Meadow. The story goes that a group of fans had saved their money for a coach up to an away game at Shrewsbury and ended up having a ton of money left over. The bulk of this was spent in a local pub having an absolute rager of a drinking session but after becoming hungry, the group equipped one of their members with £75 to go and buy lunch from a local supermarket. This chap's alcohol-impaired judgement somehow allowed him, so the story goes, to return to the pub carrying £75 worth of the wheaty breakfast item in question. This bounty found it's way into the ground and was promptly fed to a small flog of birds congregated by the corner flag by our venerable gaggle of pissheads. This wholesome activity gradually deteriorated into a mass food fight which was apparently an awesome enough spectacle for everyone to want to recreate this every time the two teams played each other, including during the 2007 League Two play-off final. 

The scale of the event has led to the frankly hilarious act of police and stewards searching attendees en masse to try and prevent any of the grainy contraband from being misused in the stands. Thankfully, supporters have stepped up their ingenuity and although a full-scale brawl is out of the question these days, a few projectiles are a staple tradition of the season calendar. Here's my friend Matt smuggling a few boxes in last season: 

Longtime readers of this blog will know I don't like covering new-build grounds as a rule because I always end up sounding like a mean-spirited football Luddite. Try as I might I can think of absolutely nothing to write about New Meadow which is made up of four identical stands plonked by a car park in the Shropshire wilderness. The only slight quirk would have been the circular banks of temporary seating in the far corners but even these have since been removed. This leaves New Meadow feeling like a distinctly identikit stadium in the main with little of the traditional charm of their previous home Gay Meadow, which is now a very fetching housing development. One thing that will soon set apart the ground from the rest is that Shrewsbury are about to install the first section of safe-standing in an English football ground. It's an exciting push for something that's been hankered after in the English leagues for a long time and will be an excellent home for the small gaggle of Shrewsbury ultras located to our immediate right, with their flags and their loud, ironic chants of "we are staying up!" 


To save putting myself through the highlights of the match, I have decided to try a different, more modern approach to reporting. Please enjoy the following off-the-cuff "vlogged" report of the action on the pitch:

With that out of the way I would also like to discuss the New Meadow pie situation, if only to fill some space. After the third goal went in I'd decided I'd seen enough and dived in to get Matt and I some vittles. In the ground they sell Wrights pastries (Wrights is a Stoke-based version of Greggs, for the uninitiated) and I settled on a pair of steak and ale numbers which went down a treat and had a pleasingly rich gravy filling. If I had to criticise I'd have to say that the pastry was, if anything, too good. As I was eating the pie in my customary fashion, bare handed like a starving jackal, I quickly ran out of structurally integral crust as it crumbled away due to it's sheer flakiness. Now I love a flaky pastry but I must admit I wouldn't have appreciated having to make a return trip to the counter to get a fork had I not been witnessing the worst half of football I'd ever seen my team play. Some constructive criticism going forward for the good folks at Wrights there.

So a particularly bad night on the road for Rovers against a side that look like they might be able to do the business this season. Ultimately you need nights like this so you can be an insufferable prick about it years later in the pub.