Tuesday, 10 May 2016

#26 Norton Lane, Hengrove Athletic

Hengrove Athletic 2 Chard Town 1
Wendesday 4th May, Western League First Division

The final day of Daz and I's Western League triple threat took us to one of Bristol's southernmost clubs, Hengrove Athletic. We had actually passed Hengrove's ground on the way to Welton Rovers the previous day, so we were in much less of a hurry to leave for the ground when I got out of work at 18:30. As a result I forgot to replace the SD card in my camera or bring my new glasses. I work best under pressure.

We arrived with minutes to spare and were shepherded into a field to park by the attendant, who parted a group of spectators to let us through which was fairly embarrassing. Norton Lane is a fairly basic ground but by no means the worst I'd seen at the level. All the stands are one side of the pitch; a long single-tier covered terrace with two seated metal stands either side of it. One of these was mysteriously named the EWW Stand, presumably the favoured haunt of the grimier Hengrove supporter. 

The side with all the stands on it has a waist-height brick wall running along the pitch, which is just as well as the stands are built very close to the action and without it many a spectator's crotch would be in serious peril. All the other sides of the pitch are bordered by classic non-league white metal railings. There's also another pitch right next to the main one, which I presume is for training and community use. Hengrove is right on the edge of the northern tip of Somerset so similarly to yesterday's trip to Welton, there's green and pleasant aplenty to savour as you take in the match. 

Keep comic sans out of football

This match had the potential to decide the First Division title which at the time was a battle between Chard and Wells City, with Western League new boys Chipping Sodbury Town having an outside chance of nicking it on goal difference if other results went their way. Wells looked to have the best chance though as they had a game in hand over Chard after today. This was a game that Chard had to win. With that in mind we were a little surprised that the attendance for such an important clash was so low, a rather meagre 30 but to be fair it was a Wednesday evening and Chard is a good hours drive.

Chard started the match well and nearly took the lead in the 10th minute when a sliced clearance from a Hengrove defender careened towards his own net but luckily another home player was there to clear it off the line. However it was Chard that opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a 25-yard wonder strike, which Daz claimed was the best goal he'd seen all season. I'm sticking with Liam Lawrence's free-kick against Crawley for the Gas at this point.

Chard came close to doubling the lead in the 25th minute from a header which I thought had gone in but actually hit the post and fell kindly into the keeper's hands. My legendary lack of depth perception strikes again. My mind kind of wandered for a bit at this point and I focused on supping my Ashton Press and boring Daz with my love of Nathan Blissett, which he doesn't seem to share. This could be due to the fact that the big man scored a brace against Daz's beloved Macclesfield Town during his recent spell of form for Torquay. This dispute led me to make the extravagant 10 (ten) pound wager that Torquay will finish above Macclesfield next season, posted here for posterity.

As I was examining my raffle ticket number, an unfortunate Chard player took a meaty ball to the face right in front of us. He took it in his stride initially but spent the next two minutes visibly dazed, eventually going to ground and needing physio attention. 

As this was going on I overheard an old boy adorned in bright running trainers and a flat cap regaling some other groundhoppers with the stats of how many balls the club had lost over each hedge this season. I can confirm that 8 (eight) had been lost over the one we were stood by and 3 (three) to the one behind the goal opposite the clubhouse. I'd like to dedicate a doff of the flat cap to this gentleman for his efforts and for making me feel better about my own internal compiling of insanely tedious stats.

Half-time arrived and we retired to the clubhouse to recharge our drinks. The clubhouse had some cool memorabilia such as old Hengrove shirts, a memorial to a lifelong club volunteer featuring old pictures of squads stretching back to the 60s, a clipping from a feature on the club in the Non League paper written when they went up the the Premier Division in the 2011/12 season and a certificate commemorating their first floodlit match in October 2009 against a Bristol City XI. 

Only place for him

As we were returning to our spot, another old chap, this one adorned in a bucket hat, beamed at us and said "That's what I like to see lads. Yeah, yeah, have a beer" as he walked past us whilst making his own way to the bar. Right on good sir. 

Hengrove were a lot more settled during the second half and evened the score in the 66th minute with a towering header from a corner. A second headed goal in the 85th minute would put paid to Chard's chances of ending the season with an away win and quite probably their title chances. 

Hengrove defended really well and were able to run a lot of Chard assaults out for goal kicks. Chard for their part seemed understandably panicked after the first Hengrove goal and struggled to maintain their shape whilst also squandering a brilliant chance right in the centre of the box towards the end. This disorganisation only got worse during the 5-minutes of stoppage time, brought on by the farcical amount of calls for handball during the match. This would prove a costly loss, as Wells City won 5-1 away at Calne Town and given the distinct possibility of a Chipping Sodbury victory or draw at the weekend, it's likely that the Robbins will now finish the season in third place. The Toolstation League is a harsh mistress.

The next morning we said goodbye to Daz as he made his way back up to Stoke. Be sure to check out his blog Pint of Football and stay tuned for his trip to non-league finals day at Wembley in a few weeks. 

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