Tuesday 9th August, Western League First Division
The veritable smorgasbord of fixtures that is pre-season was over for another year. I'd had a lengthy absence from any groundhopping and indeed the only match I'd caught since Tytherington was Bristol Manor Farm vs Thornbury Town at The Creek. During this time, my excellent good friend Daz Knapton who is my friend and in no way becoming my bitter hopping rival was ticking off new grounds at a truly terrifying pace. Something had to be done. I had designs on Manor Farm's FA Cup replay at Gillingham Town in Dorset, or maybe Street's replay at home in the Mendip against AFC St Austell. Sadly I was to be denied the magic of the cup at this early stage of the season due to being kept at work longer than I'd anticipated. The only option I could see was the short trip south to Keynsham.
Keynsham Town joined the Western League in 1973 and have spent the last four decades bouncing back and forth between the two divisions. Almondsbury UWE rose up from the Suburban League since forming in 1969 as Patchway North End. As the name suggests, they are affiliated with South Gloucestershire's premier learnatorium University of the West of England. I know that the team use the facilities on UWE campus for training but I have no idea to what extent the team is made up of students. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments or over on Twitter. Since the demise of Almondsbury Town, UWE are the main team of the town of Almondsbury and play at The Field just off the M5 interchange. Keynsham and Almondsbury finished last season a mere two positions apart at 9th and 11th respectively. As things stand Almondsbury lost their opening fixture 1-0 at home to Westbury United, while Keynsham are yet to play a league game in 2016/17.
As soon as I entered the ground I was surprised. During the small amount of research I did, I happened across some old pictures of Keynsham's ground and frankly was expecting an absolute wreck. What I found instead was the most well kept, modern ground I'd encountered in all my Western League travels so far. Crown Field has a 3G pitch like all the cool non-league clubs these days, not my favourite thing in the world but I certainly respect the benefits for smaller clubs after the havoc winter 2015 played on the fixture schedule. Behind the goal nearest the entrance is a raised platform. It's wide enough to hold about 5-6 rows of people and would be fairly simple to add a few levels to in the event of a big FA Cup clash, which would not be forthcoming this season as the K's were knocked out in the first preliminary by Bemerton Heath Harlequins. The side with the team benches on it is separated from a neighbouring rugby pitch by a green wire fence. An added bonus for visitors in the event of a boring match as you could simply switch sports (if you're into that kind of thing).
The other goal end is similar to the first but isn't elevated at all and is slightly narrower, owing to the two tiny five-a-side pitches situated behind the path. The main stand is the most eye-grabbing side of the ground, with a covered main stand built off of the clubhouse. There are terraces to both sides of this, one shallow and continuous to the right as you leave the clubhouse and a pair of three step deep ones either side of the changing rooms to the left. The whole place was very impressive and had the distinct whiff of refurb about it, with certain portions of the main stand looking like it could be someone's patio. If I had to make a complaint I'd say there weren't enough seats, only 20 but there were a couple of walls in front of them which could be used as benches. Even so, Keynsham will have to improve in this area if they wish to attract and maintain the key Western League demographic of ever-present eccentric elderly gent. Sure enough, the gent in question rocked up at the 10 minute mark, fully clad in a Toolstation Western League cap and rain jacket, with his wife in tow and took one of these seats.
Onto the action and it was Keynsham that had the first opportunity with a super chance at around 5 minutes. The ball was taken right down to the corner with acres of space by a home player and crossed across the edge of the box. A one handed flail was enough for the Almondsbury keeper to push the powerful shot over for a corner.
Throughout the match the lads practising on the rugby pitch opposite were kept busy with returning stray balls that had flown in over the fence. I hope that these two teams never have to play a competitive fixture at the same time as I imagine it would be absolute mayhem.
The game was very open in the first half with lots of chances for both sides. UWE hit two shots just over the bar within in the first 10 minutes. Keynsham's best chance came when a player drilled a powerful shot along the ground towards goal which looked to be beating the keeper but was stopped when another home player accidentally ran into it.
The ref for the afternoon struck me as a bit niggly and I really do hate it when refs call every little thing at this level as it breaks up the delicate flow of the games. He did however wave away what looked like a blatant dive in the penalty box from a UWE man.
It would be the home side that opened up the scoring. A corner flew past the UWE defence to an unmarked Samuel Duggan who was waiting by the post and dropped down for a header which sent the ball into the net.
During the match I got talking to local sports journalist Mark Tanner, who writes about all manner of Bristol and Bath based teams from Bath Spartan Dodgeball Club to the Bristol Bats and Badgers baseball sides. He knew Keynsham very well and informed me that the impressive Crown Field refurb was the result of a lone businessman putting in a considerable amount of money to save the club and improve the facilities while he was at it. The only drawback to this deal was that this businessman now held the ownership of the ground and it's profits in a 20 year lease. This means that the only way Keynsham are able to make money is via entry fees and raffle tickets. They used to make 10p on every pint sold at the bar but even this was brought to a stop. One effect of this is the notable lack of advertising boards on large parts of the stadium, as there would be no point financially for the club to get them filled.
Despite the extensive redevelopment of the rest of the ground, I'm happy to say the clubhouse retains the essence of tradition that you'd expect from a 70 year old stadium, all dark wood and washed-out photographs of grinning players past. Mark informed me that he was once the proud owner of one of 12 hand-knitted Keynsham Town scarves that were the handiwork of the chairman's wife but sadly he had left this in a pub at some stage. I'd like to think that it proudly adorns their walls to this day.
During the second half my attention was drawn to Keynsham's number 9, Matt Brown. Matt was notable for his impressive scoring record with fellow Keynsham-based side Fry Club FC, with whom he had scored a staggering 30+ goals in the last three seasons. Also notable was the chap's hair. Now there are many men out there who suffer from premature baldness and a common solution to this problem is simply to shave it short all over. This solution was not for our Matt though who had taken full ownership of his genetic handout and allowed what remained of his hair to grow into a style identical to my 55 year old uncle who works in insurance. I was delighted when Mark told me that he had been given the nickname "The Reverend" due to the similarities the haircut shared with a monastic tonsure.
UWE drew the scores level in the 51st minute through Joe Weare who smashed in a rebound off a Keynsham defender but the Rev netted the K's second soon afterwards. The home side won a corner and were able to force 2 or 3 good saves from the defence and keeper including one which looked to be off the line but the ball eventually fell to Brown in a central position just six yards out for a tap-in. Smelling blood, Duggan almost got his brace on 70 minutes when he rattled the UWE bar from distance but it was UWE who would be next to score when out of nowhere Harry Thomas pinged in a shot from 35 yards, leaving keeper Ashley Wintle for dead. Thomas' goal came in the 91st minute so I was getting ready to head home thinking I'd seen a very entertaining draw but a mere 2 minutes later Jordan Anstey pelted a short corner into the net for his first senior goal and there was much rejoicing from myself, Mark and the old chap in the full Toolstation clobber.
I said my goodbyes to Mark and left knowing that I'd probably seen some of the best facilities I was likely to see in this league and a pretty exciting game for a change.