Saturday 8th March 2017, Western League Premier Division
With just five matches remaining in this Western League season, it occurred to me that I wasn't likely to get many more chances to continue crossing off this particular league whilst simultaneously following the mighty Farm away. I say this because Farm entered this game needing just six points to mathematically guarantee becoming champions and joining the Southern League. Today probably would have been the day, had the match against Willand Rovers not been called off due to unseasonable water-loggage but we would have to wait until Good Friday for our chance to seal the deal at Hallen.
Wells City are based in England's smallest city Wells, which is 20 miles south-west of Bath at the southern foot of the Mendip Hills. The club were founded way back in 1890, joined the Western League in 1929 and have spent time in both divisions as well as a couple of wilderness decades in the Somerset County League. They were champions of the Western League First Division in 1949-50 and 2009-10. Wells started the match in 13th place with no danger of going down or up this season.
I left to pick up Loulou at around 11:30, it being Saturday and knowing first-hand the drinking culture of the professional fundraising industry I naturally assumed he would be unconscious on someone's floor. After eventually finding him in Speedwell of all places we headed off to Wells, arriving in time to catch the end of Tottenham running riot over Watford with a pint. Tony, John and the rest of the Manor Farm ultras were in attendance and a joy to talk to as always. I was sorry to have to decline their kick-about invite but I don't think Loulou would have survived such exertion.
Wells have been at Rowdens Road for a staggering 125 years since leaving their original home Torfurlong in 1892. The ground is situated in the corner of a large playing field surrounded by tennis courts. This area used to be a first-class cricket ground and acted as the home ground of Wells Cricket Club at the turn of the century and Somerset CCC from 1935 to 1951. The sky blue clubhouse is situated to the side of what was the cricket pitch so it's a fair way from the football ground but I assume it acts as a general hub for community events in the playing field. There seemed to be some sort of power-point based meeting/pyramid scheme presentation going on in the room across from the bar which I almost accidentally stumbled into.
If you're not looking to become a millionaire through the procurement and resale of fine bespoke Tupperware goods, then the Wells clubhouse can provide a range of cider and beers in bottle or pulled format, as well as the staple non-league filled rolls. It was a pity in a way that Farm couldn't have won the title here as the spacious and friendly bar would've made a great venue for the ensuing knees-up and the brilliantly sunny day only added to the pleasant vibe, as the locals and their visitors loudly took in the Grand National together or basked on the grass outside.
Rowdens Road is another fairly simple Western League ground, dominated by a grand and ancient looking wooden stand to the far side from the entrance. The old-timer is a mixture of white fence-like panels which make up the walls, a row of four plywood steps for attendees to sit and a railed-off flat standing section underneath, all covered by a corrugated metal roof supported by several sturdy metal pillars out front. The seating is raised and accessed by a small set of steps which takes you over the brickwork that makes up the front of the stand. Though crumbling in places and fighting a war with local plant-life, it's not everyday you get a raised stand like this in the Western League and it's traditional features are quite charming. A lovely stand indeed.
Also of note are the ornate metal gates that lead into the car park inscribed with the name Mary Bignal Rand, a local athletics legend who brought a gold medal back to Wells when she saw off all comers in long jump at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Don't say I don't teach you anything. The only other structures in the ground are the portakabin changing rooms to the right of the main stand and another little building with a metal annex roof which adds provides a little more covered standing. We opted to eschew all of these options in favour of getting more of that rare British sunshine and sat on the step of the changing room.
The game got underway and with just 10 of your English minutes on the clock, Dean Stamp flicked a header in from a corner at the near post for his 23rd league goal of the season. On 26 minutes Farm skipper Jordan Metters slid a ball forward to Troy Simpson who burst into the penalty area, whilst his defender took a tumble and hit it wide of the keeper and into goal, allowing Tony to unleash his new favourite chant: "Trooooyyy Simpsonnnnn" followed by a rendition of The Simpsons theme song.
Ten minutes before the break Stamp struck again and hit his brace, picking up a rebound on the edge of the box and firing low past the diving keeper. This third goal was helped in now small part by the bobbly pitch which caused the ball to bounce just wide of the keeper's diving fingertips. The pitch did look like it would have benefited from a pre-match water, in fact the patch of grass behind where we were standing looked a lot healthier than the playing surface but it wasn't massively impeding the game. Wells clawed one back just prior to the break as Lee Pitman, capitalising on a headed pass and curling it past Kane Manning who was making his debut between the sticks for Farm.
The game opened up a bit more in the second half and Wells were able to reduce the difference to a single goal. Pitman took a long range punt at goal and the hated bobble allowed the ball to squirm it's way past Manning. The comeback was short-lived however as Troy Simpson battled hard in the air to win the ball and set up Stamp to lob the rushing keeper and complete his hat-trick.
It was a good display from both teams and another fine advert for the Western League. However it was Farm who controlled proceedings and in all truth could have scored two or three more if they'd capitalised on some very good chances, the least of these being a penalty in the 70th which Harley Purnell blasted high over the bar. Ultimately this is just nit-picking and Manor Farm's 29 wins in the league (with three draws and only two defeats) speak for themselves. After threatening to be for a few seasons now they finally look like the finished package and are unplayable on their day, time for the boys from the Portway to test their mettle in the Southern League.