Friday, 22 July 2016

#30 Hardwicke Playing Field, Tytherington Rocks

Tytherington Rocks 1 Hereford Lad's Club 4
Saturday 16th July, Pre-season friendly 

Determined to press on and rack up more grounds than last season, I decided to take advantage of the fact I was spending the weekend catsitting for my parents at their house in Pilning by checking out a nearby South Glos ground. Tytherington Rocks may sound like a third-rate local music event featuring your Dad's Status Quo cover band but it is actually a Hellenic League team based near Thornbury. I assume the Rocks get their slightly strange name from the large quarry in the village 

Tytherington Rocks

Tytherington rocks

Tytherington's opponents in this afternoon's strange name derby are Hereford Lad's Club, who finished second in the West Midlands (Regional) League Division One but were denied promotion due to failing the ground grading. For those of you wondering: yes they do have a women's team, called Lad's Club Girls. The Rocks finished last season 14th out of 14 in the Hellenic League Division One West but haven't been relegated for some reason.

I arrived at the ground and wandered in. As I was taking my customary lap of the field a Hereford substitute who reminded me of Claudio Sanchez from Coheed and Cambria spotted my camera and said "Get a good picture of me mate!" Sorry guy, this was the best I could do:

I came to a halt behind the away goal and continued to be mistaken for a reporter from the local press as I overheard a collection of old boys on the clubhouse steps say "Wonder where he's come from?" One of them came over to investigate and once I'd explained I was just a hobbyist he warned me to be careful because he first came to the club to take pictures and ended up with "about 15 jobs". 

The kindly gent was able to answer a question I'd had about Tytherington Rocks for a while, namely why they were in the Hellenic League rather than the Western League with the other South Gloucestershire clubs. Apparently a switch has been attempted before but the Hellenic League wasn't keen on letting them go as it's short on teams. This may explain why Rocks weren't relegated last season. The chap also explained that the team was in a somewhat transitory phase at present, with an exodus of players leaving manager Dan Gillespie heavily reliant on youth. I had to compliment the man when it turned out one of his many jobs was groundsman, as the pitch looked pretty good from where I was standing. However he did bemoan the fact that the occasional weed was still present at this late stage due to "the bloke with the weedkiller not turning up".

This minor setback didn't change the fact that Hardwicke Playing Field is a perfectly fine place to watch football. There are a handful of local teams that have taken up residence in local playing fields (including Tytherington's local rivals Thornbury Town) and I always thought it was a little strange but it doesn't seem to have effected the space as a public asset. It really has the feel of a park, with neatly trimmed grass and thick green hedges. The drawback of these is their tendency to swallow up stray balls leaving the players to get scratched to buggery retrieving them.

The only permanent structure is the Ted Oakley stand which seats 100 under cover. There's hard standing on both ends and the side with the stand but the side opposite that is grass. The clubhouse doubles up as the changing rooms so it's quite small but there's a tiny little bar and a tea hut, plus a Tytherington shirt from the 1950s proudly on display.

The game kicked off and my chat with the old boy was interrupted by the Hereford manager coming over and asking for the changing room keys because he'd just sent on two players wearing the number 15 shirt. Magic. Tytherington's young side barely touched the ball for the first 20 minutes but sprang into action at around the 25th, winning a free-kick and rattling the post from the resulting corner when some poor defending from the away side resulted in a free header. However it was Hereford that would open the scoring when a player broke down the wing, took the ball right to the goal line, forcing the keeper to commit and then whipped it across the face of goal for an easy tap-in from Dan Herbert.   

During half time I grabbed a cup of tea, took a seat in the stand and watched the Tytherington physio's tiny dog sleep underneath the subs bench in a pile of bags and coats.

The whistle blew for the second half and a Hereford player embarrassed himself by shouting "Come on then lads, let's go" too hard so that his voice squeaked like a 14-year old pubescent boy's, for which he was roundly mocked by his teammates. 

Still in the seats, I noticed the lino in front of me was having a hard time keeping up with the action and seemed to be carrying an injury, which would serve as a point of major controversy during Hereford's second goal. I missed it happening because I was still trying to get a good picture of the beardy bloke but the Tytherington bench were incensed and calling for offside, making the point that the linesman hadn't kept up with the players at all. After being berated for a good thirty seconds the poor stiff shouted "I'M NOT HAVING THIS" went onto the pitch and started waving his flag manically at the ref so that his admittedly controversial ruling would not be swayed. After considerably more arguing, the lino decided he wasn’t going to bother anymore and stomped off to the clubhouse, to be replaced by Hereford’s husky manager. Ah non-league.

Hello darkness my old friiiend

This goal was scored by Tom Harding who added his second shortly afterwards, putting in a stunning individual effort by beating two defenders, retrieving the ball after having it kicked away from him by one of the defenders who had fallen to the ground and pressing forward to fire in from an angle. He completed his hat-trick approximately 30 seconds later with a simple strike from a through ball.

Tytherington were finally receiving the fisting that seemed on the cards during the first 20 minutes. My hero from the match was their captain who wasn’t going to let a trivial thing like losing 4-0 ruin his afternoon, shouting words of encouragement to his embattled comrades such as “Lads, we’re losing. Let’s just enjoy it. Let’s just try and do simple things.” Words of encouragement to make William Wallace himself focus on his first touch a bit more.

The Rocks did finally get their consolation with approximately 1 minute to spare with a mighty lob from midfield that the visiting keeper didn’t look like he could be arsed to save more than anything else, judging from his lethargic reach and unwillingness to leave the ground.

An encouraging display for Lad’s Club who will be looking to push on after coming up trumps last season but Tytherington it seemed still had a lot of work to do with their young squad to compete. Still, a lovely ground and a friendly club made for another enjoyable afternoon of west country non-league.  

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

#29 Twerton Park, Bath City

Bath City 0 Bristol Rovers 1
Tuesday 12th July, Pre-season friendly 

Here we are again in July. It's the height of summer, everyone is sweaty, England have bumbled out of another tournament and our attention is once again turned to the zany, inconsequential fun of the pre-season. Rovers have at this point won their opening two pre-season matches at Mangotsfield and Salisbury and were finally going to a ground I hadn't ticked off yet. Twerton Park holds a special place in the hearts of many Gasheads, as Rovers spent a decade groundsharing with Bath when a rent hike forced them from their spiritual home of Eastville Stadium.

Bath City gave me what I still consider to be my lowest moment as a Rovers supporter in our conference season, when they beat us 2-0 at the Memorial Stadium in the FA Trophy. Forcing that to the back of my mind for the day, I was excited to experience an important piece of Rovers history first-hand and get back to regular live football.

Bath (or "The Romans") currently play their football in the National Legaue South, where they finished up 14th last season. They have spent their entire 127-year history as a non-league side but have had many forays into the Conference National, the most recent being two seasons from 2010 to 2012.

I headed for Twerton right after work and parked up nearby with about 15 minutes to spare. It struck me as I was driving to the ground that it must have been a logistical nightmare hosting division two games there. The roads are small and the rows of parked cars essentially turn them into single tracks, even with the relatively modest 1127 strong crowd. There also aren't that many approaches, which would've caused endless fun for the authorities and residents alike.

As I was stood in the queue I got a tap on the shoulder from my old school pal Ellie who was there with her boyfriend Joe. This was weird to me as I knew Ellie doesn't like football but it turns out Joe picked up the habit of following Bath since becoming a local councillor. Always nice to have company, especially as this would turn out to be a pretty dull game.

Twerton Park is pretty much exactly what I imagined it would be. A rickety, crumbling wonder that didn't look like it could have changed much since Rovers started squatting in 1986. It's a very hotchpotch stadium where no side matches up with any other. The main stand, or main stands to be precise, are separate from one another and consist of the large main stand and the smaller family stand. The main stand looks like it's been there for a bloody long time. The covered portion on top is all seated but there is a small slither of uncovered terracing below. The much smaller family stand looks like a more modern construction; it's florescent blue seats and orange pillars creating quite a clash with the greenish-grey corrugated iron of the main stand. Despite being called the family stand, I'm told it's given to away fans these days.

Opposite the main and family stands is a massive covered terrace that stretches the entire length of the pitch. A standout feature of this part of the ground is the fact that the terrace bows quite noticeably in the middle. Whether this is an oversight in the building process or a natural result of a well-loved 107 year old stadium I don't know but I'd like to think it was the latter.

The rest of the ground is uncovered terracing, a very shallow section on the end nearest the main entrance and a much larger, steeper section on the opposite end known as the 'Bristol End'. Studying old footage of Rovers at Twerton Park, the right side of this end was given over to away fans. One feature that I've not seen at any other grounds is the curved terracing in each corner, which makes the stadium into a kind of bowl until it meets the seated stands. Bristol Rovers' current stadium has a slight curve on it's north terrace but it's not as pronounced as the one here. It's a very nice traditional feature.

Whilst I was enjoying taking this all in, a none too thrilling game was unfolding before me. The only things I remember from the first half was Will Puddy making some decent blocks but struggling to gather and distribute sensibly which nearly cost us and Ellis Harrison skying a shot just before the half. Also Tom Lockyer went off injured after 33 minutes in what I pray was a precautionary measure. My excuse for not really paying attention was the fact that news had filtered through from Joe's mates that Jeremy Corbyn had won his battle to be automatically included on the upcoming leadership election ballot, so I was busy drinking delicious Blairite tears over on twitter.

When half-time arrived Rovers made 8 (eight) changes to the side, retaining only Will Puddy, James Clarke and Alfie Kilgour (who came on part way through the first half) from the first 45 minutes. Added to the mix was a conspicuously unnamed youngster who appeared on the team sheet as 'Trialist'. I've looked into this since the match and apparently Darrell Clarke wants this lad's name kept out of the public domain for the time being for whatever reason. Trialist put in a decent shift and sent a couple of probing balls forward for the visiting forwards. He would eventually prove instrumental in breaking the deadlock, providing the corner that James Clarke would head in for his second ever senior goal (after scoring his first at Mangotsfield the week before) in the 69th minute (hurrr).

A very drab game meant that Joe would probably have a hard time dragging Ellie back to Twerton Park any time soon but I was happy to have crossed another local ground off the list and seen the old place for myself. Scrappy though it was, Rovers had won all three of their opening pre-season games which can only be seen as a positive. I'd definitely tip the Romans to be challenging in the National League South this season as they were tenacious in defence, cutting out a lot of passes between our seasoned pros, as well as looking quite dangerous in attack on a number of occasions. I'll be watching them with great interest.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

#28 Raleigh Grove, Sherborne Town

Yeovil Town Ladies 1 Notts County Ladies 3
Sunday 3th July, FA WSL Cup First Round

I'd been looking to go to a WSL match for a long time as it's the only English league I can find that runs through summer. My choices were the recently renamed Bristol City Women who play in nearby Filton and Yeovil Town Ladies, who were playing 66 miles away in the north Dorset town of Sherborne. After a very tumultuous five seconds of deliberation, I was on my way to Dorset.

Yeovil Town Ladies at time of writing are flying high in first place in the WSL 2, 3 points above local rivals Bristol Academy City. Their website seemed to suggest that they usually play their games at Huish Park but for whatever reason they were using Sherborne Town's Raleigh Grove for this one. Notts County play a league above in the WSL 1. My programme for the afternoon helpfully explained that the last time these two met 'The Lady Pies' (as Notts are hilariously nicknamed) won the day 4-0.

I made my way into the ground and was greeted by the alluring smell of hog roast, which I had to pass up as I was still struggling after having eaten half my height in delicious meats at a barbecue the previous evening. I entered the clubhouse for a swift pint and a peruse of the programme which contained the eyebrow-raisingly entitled "Chairman's Bill of Rights". This sacred document contains many admirable statements such as "Every fan is entitled to meet with and have access to players and coaches for autographs and conversation in recognition of their support at every game" and "Every fan is entitled to expect all associated with our club to be actively involved in our communities to make active contributions for a better safer and more positive place to live." I continue to be impressed by the welcoming ethos of English women's football and it was very heartening to see many school age girls in attendance and making classic football platitudes like "all it needed was a toe poke, that's all!" and "on any other day this would be ours" to their doting dads.

I took up a position behind the quieter Yeovil goal because the attendance was 406, way more than I'm accustomed too and I was feeling sheepish. On my way I passed a small collection of Notts County fans with a snare drum. Before the game kicked off I was treated to the eye-wateringly bad Yeovil True over a PA system that had one pair of speakers 1-second out of sync with the other, producing a maddening echo all over the ground. The things that are done at football in order to "boost atmosphere" are utterly baffling to me at times, least of which are the fucking horns that the FA seem to bring to every women's fixture to give out to excitable children. Strangely enough in this instance, a lone middle aged bloke in full Yeovil Town shirt, cap and scarf had brought his own primitive wind instrument, which he proceeded to sound after every name on the teamsheet was read out and for every corner. Toot on sir, toot on.

Raleigh Grove is one of only two Dorset grounds in the entire Western League. It has a covered stand on one side which seats what I estimate to be 45-50 people. This side of the ground is on a slight incline and looked to be the best place to view the action. The end nearest the clubhouse has a cute wooden bus shelter-like structure for the fan that values both standing and dryness. That's your lot structurewise as the rest of the ground is our old friend hard concrete and white metal rail standing. One quirky feature is the occasional park bench nestled into the undergrowth for the lost elderly rambler. A perfectly serviceable and pleasant ground but nothing to set the world alight. 

The match began and Yeovil went 1-0 down after only two minutes when an attempted clearance from Dani Buet's floated free-kick was scuffed and landed kindly into the path of Ellen White, who found herself 1-on-1 with Glovers keeper Beth Howard for an easy slot in. White made it a brace in the 22nd minute with a simple nod in from a near-flawless Chelsea Weston cross from just by the corner flag. Notts County were dominant but Yeovil did defend okay for most of the half and were first to a great many threatening through balls which were passed back to Howard, snuffing out any danger. The home team only forced the one save from the Notts County keeper, a floaty effort that was easily caught. 

Half-time arrived and I made my way to the tea hut for a coffee and some chips (£2.20), avoiding the suspicious sounding "Sherborne whopper" burger. Upon returning to my place I spotted a bench buried in the grass behind me which I decided I'd sit on whilst I ingested my provisions. It was fucking glorious. The combination of solitude, warm sunshine, hot vittles and football could see this humble bench become my new happy place. The only downside was someone's flag blocked my view of the Notts County goal but as I didn't foresee this getting much action anytime soon, I spent a good amount of time enjoying my sit. Trilling this blog innit?

Back to the action and Yeovil were repelling attack after attack with Beth Howard making two great saves in the first 10 minutes or so of the second half. She made yet another from an effort from a corner but alas it was only a punch away and was tapped in afterwards after a short scramble. Towards the end of the match Yeovil defender Ellis Hillman had a lengthy spell on the floor and was stretchered off on a spinal board. Get well soon Ellis.  

The home team rallied somewhat after this and with what was only their third shot on goal, Nadia Lawrence collected a pass, beat her marker and won herself plenty of time to slot it in to the corner. Some pride was restored. Yeovil very nearly made it two when someone had a dig from 20 yards out with a shot that at first looked hopelessly optimistic but ended up curling dangerously towards the goal and was only kept out by the post. Stand out players for me were Beth Howard, Notts County's Jess Clarke and Danielle Buet, who was unfortunate not to supply County's fourth when she beat the defender, controlled the ball inches from the line and whipped in a brilliant cross. The rocket of a shot the cross was met with was however saved by Howard in the air.

The match ended with Notts County the deserved winners after putting in a dominant performance that stopped short of being lethal. Yeovil's resting of captain Ellie Curson and joint league top-scorer Sarah Wiltshire suggested that they were focused on their efforts to get promoted to the top tier and considering this was a part-time club against a full-time one, they can be proud of a spirited display.