Friday, 31 July 2015

#9 The Hallen Centre, Hallen A.F.C

Hallen A.F.C 1 Tiverton Town 0
Fri 31st July 2015, pre-season friendly.

Once again the league bears down upon us and an end to the wacky, consequenceless fun of pre-season friendlies comes to an end. No more spotty youth-teamers or hapless trialists. No more hilarious mismatches or cross-border absurdities. No more obscure local cup competitions or queue-less pasty vans. Good night sweet prince.

Before that though, a visit to the little club that almost wasn't: Hallen A.F.C. Local non-league dorks will no doubt be aware that Hallen were embroiled in a long and very stupid battle with Almondsbury parish council over the Hallen Centre, the council wishing to expel the club including their youth and community facilities. After finding a contractual get-out clause (not to mention a massive online campaign attracting support from the likes of Yannick Bolaise and an offer from Hallen's groundsman Terry Henderson to donate his life savings to save the club. The firmest doff of the PB cap to that man) it looks like the club will be staying put, for now.

I know for a fact this shop has been closed for over five years.
After a particularly annoying 9-hour day at work, I was well up for some Friday night football. Leaving my workplace in my hometown of Pilning at 18:30, Phil Kite's testimonial match against West Brom at the Mem just wasn't going to happen, despite tantalising rumours of Rovers legend Rickie Lambert's imminent transfer to the Black Country club. Luckily for me however Hallen's ground was a mere 10 minute drive and an even merer £2 to enter. 

Hallen is very much like every other South Gloucestershire village; small, dull, pothole-filled with the ever present smell of cow shit permeating everything. The Hallen Centre conversely is pretty well decked out for a Western league ground. Despite looking a little sterile from the exterior. When you arrive and walk up the single track road from the car park, past an abundance of grass practice areas, you get to what looks to all the world like your average leisure centre complete with an (unmanned that evening) reception counter. Not wanting to enter the ground half-an-hour early I went for a poke around. The entrance room was completely deserted, so I pushed open the first door I got to and was immediately greeted by 15 or so silent, surprised faces looking up from their pints at me in the compact clubhouse bar. I was driving and skint so rather than seek frosty refreshment I backed slowly back out of the room so as not to upset the natural order. 

After that I made my way through the turnstiles and had my customary wander. The ground has some truly lovely countryside scenes with rolling green hills a-plenty. The vast majority of the pitch-side is uncovered, single-layer hard standing but there is also a large seated stand opposite the dug outs. With a bus shelter-like construction behind the goal nearest the club house. If I had to make one complaint and I do, it would be that the railings are not at the optimal height for the standard groundhopper leaning on arms stance.

I'd decided to park by the seated stand and was watching the teams warm up when I noticed someone walking over to me. Once they'd got to me they asked me if I "was the one with the blog". Now I am a notoriously anxious man and I have been living in fear of coming into contact with someone who's club I've roundly taken the piss out of and getting my head kicked in but it turns out that these three were people I'd made contact with on twitter earlier, the Tivvy 12th Man fan group. They were really nice. Fair play to them coming up the motorway to this smelly old county on a weekday evening, that's fandom right there.

Tivvy ultras. Also the programme editors. And photographer. And ball boy.
The away fans passed the time of day with me talking about their Southern League exploits and what sounded like a thriving disability side they have at the club, interspersed by the occasional trip to retrieve a lost ball from the field behind the fence that one of their players had shanked. This happened so often that I'm pretty sure they started doing it on purpose to make the poor bloke run for yuks. Once the whistle had gone we went down to the other side of the pitch behind the Hallen goal where my companions assured me all the action would be happening in a classic example of famous last words.

The game started out very even. A tight contest between Tiverton's flair vs the hardy and well-organised Hallen. I'd say that Tiverton narrowly had the best of the first half, with Andrew "Rocky" Neal in particular standing out for me with his blazing runs down the wing, doing a fantastic job of beating men and keeping the ball in play. Tiverton just couldn't put the final ingredient into any of their many good crosses though, not helped by some heroic at times defending from Hallen, there was even the odd flying header, magic.

Token match shot
As this was playing out an elderly gentleman mentioned to us that Hallen had in fact scored only a paltry 41 goals in the entire 2014-15 season and had ended up with a goal difference of -21, so I wasn't holding out for a goal fest.

Half-time came, I got coffee, the refreshment shipping container sold French fancies, the shitty tannoy blasted out pop music, we discussed whether Rovers or Tiverton had worse run-out music.

Second half came and the immediately obvious on-pitch shift was the changing of Hallen's goalkeeper, presumably to give both a run-out before the season started. The new keeper was, shall we say, jollier than his younger counterpart and after a bit of fancy footwork gone awry early on in the half, Tiverton started to smell blood and pelted the home box for a good 15 minutes with cross after cross, it almost looked like a training exercise for a while but still no goal. There was a great save from the new man in net however, so that showed me.

Much like the owner of a car parked on a beach slowly filling with seawater, I failed to pay attention to the moment the tide turned and was absent-mindedly enjoying the sunset halfway through the second half when Hallen pulled ahead with a goal. This caused flapper #2 to get a bit cocky." Better get used to the Toolstation league, you'll be down here next year!" he belted with delight and much banter was enjoyed by all.

From this point on Tiverton, sensing an embarrassing defeat going into the season on the cards, got a bit hoofy, two players nearly got into a fight because of course and a free-kick on the edge of the box got missed. It wasn't to be and Hallen won the day with a strong display that should see them bothering the top half of the Western league if they keep it up.

I gave my commiserations to the travelling fans and agreed to see them at Ladysmead sometime soon.

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