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.

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