Toolstation Western League - Premier Division, Tuesday 15th March 2016
Only a month and a half remains of the particularly rain-beleaguered 2015/16 Western League season, that's right folks, the run-in is upon us. The chance for embattled village teams to push for that elusive single promotion spot and into the promised land of the Southern League. Jostling for that honour this evening are my local club Bristol Manor Farm and the little-known and strangely named Bath suburb of Odd Down, who occupied 2nd and 1st place respectively at the time of this match. I decided this match carried a decent potential of "being a bit tasty" and would be a good way to break my long absence from ground-hopping.
I arrived at the ground about 15 minutes before kick-off and was stunned to encounter a 20-person line for the single turnstile. I'd place the overall crowd at about 100-120, by far the biggest I'd ever seen at a Western League match and why not? Farm had just crashed out of a triumphant FA Vase run in the quarter-finals to eventual finalists Morpeth Town and Odd Down were top of the league with games in hand, there was a palpable buzz around the Lew Hill Memorial Ground as I passed through the gate of evergreen trees and into the stands.
Odd Down's ground is one of the more rustic, shall we say, of the Western Prem. I think they'd be cool with me saying this judging by their twitter. They seem to have gone for the bare minimum that the FA guidelines demand for the level with hard standing on only three sides of the pitch and a tiny amount of seating. They do have a covered standing section made of scaffolding though, which seems to be all the rage these days. Other than that the only major complaint I could make was the pitch being a bit barren in regards to green stuff but if Odd Down can be top of the league without the use of newfangled modern glitter such as a website, or sturdy structures, or grass, then more power to them. True proletariats of the Toolstation league.
The game kicked off and Odd Down went one up almost immediately through Jay Simpson. Manor Farm had a decent attacking spell and won three corners in quick succession but weren't able to make any count despite some of them floating in very nicely indeed, with one being inches from an own goal for Down from a defensive header gone wrong.
Eventually the ball retrieval process sped-up, leading to this gem from the bloke next to me:
"SPORTS DIRECT WERE OPEN WERE THEY? WELCOME TO THE MODERN WORLD. AND GET SOME FUCKING GRASS SEED".
The difference for Manor Farm proved once again to be the fun-sized midfielder Pete Sheppard, who flew at the Odd Down defence again and again with astonishing speed, eventually resulting in Nash, Odd Down's keeper, bringing him down for a penalty which Kye Holly dutifully converted. During stoppage time Manor Farm were denied a second penalty from a clear handball in the box which the ref missed.
Half time came and Down's plush clubhouse was so busy that it was more feasible for me to acquire a Doom Bar than a cup of tea in the allotted time, which I supped whilst gazing mystified at a poster advertising Odd Down Social Club's Friday night game of 'click' with 'meat draw'. Wild.
|"What... kind of meat?"|
I switched sides during the second half to stand behind the Odd Down keeper on the non-hard standing side of the pitch, again with the Farm fans. These guys were amazing value. I've never seen Western League football taken so seriously before. They managed to rile up Odd Down's Alex Nash something rotten with chants of "will you ever grow a beard?" in reference to the keeper's designer stubble. Some frank exchanges of views, which I won't repeat for the sake of the children, were held between Nash and the farmy army regarding accusations of Odd Down cheating as they continued to kick balls out of play during the remaining half.
For my part, whilst I could understand their frustrations to an extent, Manor Farm didn't have the best game. They were second to the ball too often and insisted on trying various flicks that were easily intercepted rather than the more direct approach I've seen them use to great effect at The Creek and I feel more befits he-of-the-46-goals-this-season Dean Stamp, who I was astounded to learn was played as a left-back at Willand Rovers earlier in his career. The big man's best attempt came near the end as he beat two defenders on a charging run before smashing it against the post for Odd Down to clear. An agonizing missed opportunity for my new comrades behind the goal.
Odd Down for their part played brilliantly on the counter and despite a possible over-reliance on hoofed balls and kicking it out, were able to use their noticeably pacier attacking players to great effect. The decider came in the 55th minute from an Odd Down penalty, which was initially saved but was buried by Adnan Hiroli on the rebound. There were furious calls for offside from the Manor Farm players and bench but I'm afraid I was too far away to comment.
At time of writing Manor Farm have lost another game 3-1 at home to Cadbury Heath, putting them eight points behind Odd Down who maintain a game in hand, with Willand Rovers between the two but having played four more games. Promotion now seems big ask for the portway club but certainly not unachievable. I'll do my best to bring you some more reports before the end of the season.