Sunday, 29 November 2015

#16 Ashton Gate, Bristol City

England 1 Bosnia and Herzegovina 0 
Sunday 29th November 2015, Women's Euro 2017 qualifying

*sigh* I really haven't been looking forward to this. When Loulou and I drunkenly came up with the idea of visiting every ground in Avon the prospect of actually paying money to watch my team's sworn enemies seemed a very distant one. My plan was to wait for a friend's team to play City and invite them down with the promise of board and company. Luckily I got wind of Bristol Sport offering tickets to this Euro qualifier for a mere £5 and I'm not going to get a cheaper opportunity to cross this one off the list. Work had kept me from my last chance to legitimately visit the Gate, the 2013 League Trophy Bristol derby which ended 2-1 to City.

Despite my misgivings, I was looking forward to seeing my first international match ever and supporting the girls. England's world cup run made for a great distraction during the summer and I suppose it was pretty cool that they were coming to Bristol, even if it was the dark side. Thanks to the unique way that the group stage of this competition works, Bosnia and Herzegovina had played 4 games and were currently 2nd in the group (2 wins, 2 losses) whilst England had played 1 and were 4th (1 win). I confess I had no idea where Bos & Herz stand in the grand scheme of women's football but those ever-reliable FIFA rankings tell me that they're currently 72nd out of 147 teams.

Mmmmm... sacrilicious.

I left for the match straight after the early Spurs Chelsea game had finished, as I'd heard talk of there being a 10k crowd descending on my old stomping ground of Bedminster. I knew all too well that parking would be an arse so I decided to stop near the waterfront and brave the 20 minute walk towards north street. The weather for the afternoon was truly shite, with constant gusts of strong wind and intermittent heavy rain. Once I'd made it through north street and started walking with the other attendees, I became aware that they were almost all young families with children. My apprehension about the stadium being lousy with the city faithful turned out to be unfounded but now I was worried about the fact that I was a lone bearded man crashing a family fun day. 

Kingsley's pet cat

Finally I arrived at Ashton Gate and set about finding the turnstile on my ticket. I went through and found myself inside a vast brilliant white concourse, quite a contrast from the warehouseish exterior I was used to seeing on my travels. It was full of the trappings of an international match with kids posing for photographs with creepy mascots or having a kick-about in the Continental Tyres sponsored inflatable mini pitches. It was all a bit much for this reporter so I got straight to work on my final piece of business before I took my seat: sicking an Ian Holloway sticker on one of the tissue dispensers as an act of petty punishment for my City-supporting mate Ian Hoffmann who was supposed to accompany me but decided he couldn't be arsed at the last minute.

Have that Hoff, you flaky bastard.
I was really hoping I'd find something I liked about the stadium so as not to appear biased but I just found Ashton Gate to be quite a sterile place with few of the quirks or charm I hope to encounter on these trips. It has the distinct feel of wanting to be luxurious Championship/Premier League pleasure dome rather than the beloved 100 year old traditional stadium I was hoping for. Something about the wood-panelled "Heineken Lounge" featuring advertisements for the beer that dominate that entire right corner of the south stand, or the airport departure lounge-like concourses full of fonts and colours you'd find in an EE shop just rubbed me up the wrong way. In fairness it probably didn't help that the place is one quarter building site at the time of writing. My favourite part of the stadium is the Ateyo stand with it's retro looking seat lettering. It's the little things. I'm also a sucker for curved seating which the south stand has.

Before you reach for your twitter to tell me what an idiot I am, I think reading any other post of this blog should clue you in to the fact that I am a massive football Luddite who get's twitchy if he can't stand or if a human being doesn't rip his ticket at the entrance. I am not Bristol Sport's target audience. I will admit that the new grandstand looks like it will be an impressive spectacle when complete and it's a real shame that city's admirable push for safe-standing ended up dying in a sea red-tape. 

On the football front England dominated the entire first half with Bosnia & Herzegovina taking a leaf out of the Sammarinese book of defending against teams that vastly outclass you, that is playing 4-6-0. England came ridiculously close in the 9th minute through a lovely lobbed shot from Nobbs which Hodzic touched just enough for the ball to hit the crossbar and bounce around the goal line. The keeper had to contest with a header from the rebound and an outfield player blocked a shot to the near post. England did a lot right in attack but always seemed to over-hit the final through ball needed to set up a decent shot on goal. In fairness this may have been due in part to the wind. 

Half-time came and I ducked back inside in search of sustenance. The attendance was a hearty 13,040 so I decided to see if I could track down one of the vans I saw on the way in rather than spend forever queueing inside. I found a Christmassy one selling bratwurst but I wasn't in the mood to stand out in the torrential rain. Then I saw a bizarre sight.

Ashton Gate has a coffee shop.

Not a tea hut. A full on coffee shop. With muffins, croissants and leather chairs.

Now don't get me wrong, the coffee shop saved my damp chilly arse on this occasion but I think things may have gone too far when a person can nip outside, open up a MacBook and have another crack at the old novel at a football ground.

Anyway, thanks for my BLT and Americano Ashton Gate Coffee Shop, you are a lifesaver.

Back to the action and the weather had now whipped itself up to the point where it was seriously affecting play. We were denied a penalty when Steph Houghton was shoved in the back in front of goal and a Bosnia player was a little lucky not to pick up a second yellow for pulling down Christiansen. The frustrated crowd began amusing themselves the only way the English know how: Mexican waves (ugh) and getting out the phone flashlights.

England's moment finally arrived in the 68th minute when Aluko, who I didn't think was having the best of games up to that point, sent a lovely cross into the box for the lofty Jill Scott to neatly head into the net and that was the end of that.

Franny <3

It hadn't been a classic match by any means but England put in a great shift in some truly horrible conditions and got their reward. Hodzic, the Bosnian goalkeeper should give herself a pat on the back despite the fact she was eventually beaten because she single-handedly kept her side in the game at times. I stuck around to clap off the players then started my long walk back to the car alongside the rain bedraggled parents and their overexcited children. When I'm in charge of the country, selling whistles to children who only know one chant at international fixtures will earn you two weeks in the acid pit.

Thanks to women's football I had ticked this ground off the list for next to nothing. Now let's never speak of it again.

Rovers might be tinpot but at least we've never released a Christmas jumper.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

#15 Lodge Road, Yate Town

Yate Town (Reserves) 2 Bristol Manor Farm 5 
Wednesday 25th November 2015, Gloucestershire FA Challenge Trophy 3rd round

Post-punk band Half Man Half Biscuit once referred to Yate as "the kind of town that referees come from". Unless you are a South Gloucestershire native you can't really hope to appreciate how bang on a statement that is. Yate was one of those towns that most likely had more cows than people until it was randomly selected in the 60s to be crammed full of building projects until it resembled a real place. It's the ends of the earth as far as "greater Bristol" is concerned with sweet bugger-all for miles apart from a place called Chipping Sodbury where I was once, as a child, forced to do an overnight hike and found that I could quite easily nap in the middle of the road for hours without being squished by traffic.

Yate Town are one of the "big boys" of South Glos footy, the other being Mangotsfield United located 8 miles down the road with whom they share a half-arsed rivalry. The first team are enjoying a rather average season in the Southern Football League Division One South & West where they sit in 14th place having exited the league cup in the second round. The reserves play three steps lower in the Gloucestershire County League and are currently 13th.

Bristol Manor Farm on the other hand are having a wonderful time of it of late. They sit in pole position in the Western League Premier Division and have made it to the third round of the FA Vase at a canter. I imagined as I waited for the game to begin with my Styrofoam cup of ludicrously milky tea that the Farm would throw themselves into this one with a decent amount of gusto in the interests of maintaining those ever elusive "winning ways" and predicted a 3-1 win for the Western League side. Eagle-eyed readers may recall that this was a trophy that Manor Farm won last season.

Lodge Road is a quite basic but nice enough ground, even if every structure is made of grey corrugated iron. There is a fairly large seated stand to one side of the clubhouse near one of the goals and a small terrace behind the other goal and the rest is tarmac. A nice feature of the ground is the wall of huge evergreen trees that line the side of the pitch opposite the turnstiles and waft a lovely Christmas tree smell over the whole place. The clubhouse looked decent (even though I only nipped in briefly to use the facilities) with a large bar and plenty of places to sit and watch the scores from the Champions League roll in.

I'm not sure where else I'm going to be able to shoehorn this anecdote in so I'm just going to go for it here. While I was waiting for kickoff by the Manor Farm bench I was treated to the sight of their water boy bringing the bottles over in a FULL BODY BRISTOL MANOR FARM BOILERSUIT. I've let you all down by not taking a picture of this I know but I was so astounded my hands stopped working. If any officials from Bristol Manor Farm are reading this and can tell me where I might purchase a FULL BODY BRISTOL MANOR FARM BOILERSUIT please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Where Yate are hiding the bodies.
The game began and this reporter got straight into the action by punching a stray ball back into play and spilling his tea everywhere. Silky.

Still stood by the technical areas I overhear one of the managers scream "DUMMY RUNNER" at his players, which has got to be the single worst way to organise that particular tactic. I decided to move so that this report wouldn't consist solely of ridiculous things I overheard managers say.

A mere 10 minutes had passed before the first goal, a stonking strike from just outside the box by Liam Farmer, a player I always think looks particularly decent when I've seen him play for the Farm. The action didn't stop there and in the 13th minute a defensive mistake from a Farm player caused the ball to go airborne, the keeper committed too late to the catch and it was an easy tap-in for a Yate forward. Yate 1 - Farm 1.

Amazingly it only took Farm another 3 minutes to reply when a glaringly unmarked Jordan Metters caught a cross and fired it in, once again from outside the box. Yate seemed to be defending way too deeply and had serious trouble dealing with crosses and corners, which Dean Stamp used to his advantage in the 41st minute when he gently rolled in a third for Manor Farm from a low cross. Yate 1 - Farm 3, half time.

My previous inkling that Manor Farm wouldn't take their foot off the peddle when it came to this game was given a lot of credence by Mr Stamp's inclusion in the squad. The big man has been enjoying a spectacular run of form, scoring 29 goals so far in all competitions. A doff of the Partizan Bristle cap to him.

Half time provided me with a chance to get my food on. I hadn't eaten since 10 that morning and I was getting grouchy. Luckily Yate can provide you with a burger and a decent portion of chips for a mere £4.50 from the friendly old man in the static caravan. And you can have onions. If your club doesn't have onions then it's tinpot.

I figured I'd grab a place on the terrace behind the Yate goal because I could see it would be getting most of the action for the rest of the game. Due to it's close proximity to the pitch this was quite a scary place to be when the absurdly well spoken ref awarded Stamp a free-kick on the edge of the box, causing everyone to shuffle down to the bottom step. This set-piece came to nothing but minutes later Stamp powered through two defenders to slot home his second. What a man. He could even rival Pete Sheppard in my affections one day. Yate 1 - Farm 4.

I should point out that although this report sounds like the game was one-way traffic, Yate weren't without their moments and forced a number of saves from the Farm goalie including a powerful effort that curved strongly, producing a fantastic diving save from the man in net. The plucky gaggle of teenagers were finally rewarded with a second goal in the 79th minute with a shot so powerful it ricocheted off all three goal posts before going in.

Despite this brief comeback it took Farm only seconds to reply. Again exploiting Yate's weakness against crosses the ball was rolled across the face of the goal to a player who made a short pass to Metters in the centre of the penalty box for him to nutmeg the Yate goalkeeper and end the game. Yate 2 - Farm 5.

I stuck around to clap off Manor Farm who I am developing a bit of an affinity for and took my leave feeling pretty good that I'd just paid 28p per goal. Viva non-league!

For a less stupid more tactically astute write-up of this match, may I suggest this one by Jack Davies.

Maybe next season lads.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

#14 Lancer Scott Stadium, Ashton and Backwell United

Ashton and Backwell United 0 Chippenham Park 2

Friday 30th October 2015, Western League Division One

Not wanting to get lazy with my hopping again, whist also hoping to catch Bristol Manor Farm's FA Vase match on Saturday, I was on the lookout for a Friday night match. As a rare treat Loulou was up for this one as well, so I was on the hunt for a ground I could get to from Pilning via Bedminster all in the space of an hour. Let this be a lesson kids: if you want it hard enough, there is always football to watch.

Ashton and Backwell United are based in the North Somerset village of Backwell. They were formed in 1911 as Backwell United but eventually absorbed Ashton Boys, presumably from the nearby village of Long Ashton, to become the team we see today. They currently play in Western League Division One (level 10) but have played in the Western League Premier before. Their relative success considering Backwell's size leaves me pondering why my own home-town of Pilning and Severn Beach with it's population of 3,647 can't even maintain a Suburban League team.  

Chippenham Park have the weird origin story of being an AFC Liverpool-style "little brother" club but one that was set up by the parent club itself (the Southern Premier's Chippenham Town) rather than disgruntled fans. Town launched the club in 2012 to give local youngsters a chance to break into the football pyramid as a separate club rather than a reserves side (Park actually have their own reserves). Despite being technically a separate entity the hope is that many youngsters that do well for Park will make the step-up to Town. Both teams play in the same kit and stadium.

Because we'd had to rush a bit I hadn't had time to check whether this was a league game or an early FA Vase tie as we entered the ground but I can now confirm it was a league game. Looking at the tables now, it meant we were going to be watching 12th-placed Chippenham against 15th-placed Backwell. Tasty!

The Lancer Scott Stadium was easy enough to find, just off Backwell high street. However it was also pretty well hidden. I know Backwell fairly well and I never had a clue there was a football ground there until now. The first noticeable feature of the place is their seemingly honour based ticketing system: a garden shed with a single turnstile hanging off of it and two arm-widths of space between it and the clubhouse wall. Happily there was a club official on hand to take our money and prevent any gatecrashing shenanigans. Once I'd paid I wondered whether the polite thing to do would be to push the turnstile rather than simply walk past it, eventually opting for the former and looking like a massive tit.

Once inside I noticed that the rows of seats were lettered. Leading to metal images of some high-profile cup game where the kindly official would be forced to attempt directing people to allocated seats from his garden shed outpost. 

Silliness aside, the seats by the clubhouse were quite a nice place to be, well lit and right on the edge of the action, with a roof to keep the old boys warm and dry during the winter months. On the opposite side of the pitch there is another smaller stand named after Bill Coggins, a goalkeeper who won league titles with Bristol City and Everton before retiring and becoming landlord of The Rising Sun in Backwell.

I was amused by the token effort that had been put into setting up nets to catch wayward balls; a strip of orange barrier fence only slightly wider than the goal erected slackly above it, which proceeded to save exactly no stray balls. 

The first half was a case of squandered chances for both teams. An Ashton player broke free in the first five minutes but skied his shot. The home team had a number of other chances that were cleared from the goal-line or rattled the woodwork. Eventually the tide turned against them as a Chippenham player was pulled down in the box for a penalty, which he gratefully put away. A easy follow-up from the corner of the box shortly after was to be the only other action of the 90.

I was disappointed that the first game I'd been able to drag Loulou to in a while hadn't exactly been a classic, even as the game got fractious and there looked like their might be a scrap on the cards. I also enjoyed the Chippenham fans calling out to their player to "watch out for Messi" in reference to Ashton's suspiciously Barcelonaesque strip and their mop-topped winger.

Considering it was the lowest standard of football I've covered so far, Ashton and Backwell was a decent enough little ground with plenty of cosy seating and the locals were hilarious. For £6 you can't go wrong.