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.

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