Wednesday, 3 May 2017

#50 Hand Stadium, Clevedon Town

Wrington Redhill 1 Fry Club 2
Monday 1st May 2017, Somerset County League Premier Division

It'd been an eventful May bank holiday. Daz's second trip down to sample the delights of West Country football had involved a right royal knees-up at Western League champions Bristol Manor Farm's ground The Creek as we watched them see off bottom of the table Sherborne Town and lift the cup. The day after, we went along to Bristol Rovers' final league game of the season at a sold-out Memorial stadium. It was a feisty affair as the Gas gave play-off chasing Millwall a scare in a tight-fought 3-4 defeat. 

With one more day to play with, we decided to keep it local and head over the River Avon into North Somerset to check out Clevedon Town's Hand Stadium. Playing at the Hand today were Somerset County League Premier side Wrington Redhill, taking on Keynsham's Fry Club. Of all the end-of-season clashes we'd attended this one was the most dead rubber with Wrington 14th and Fry Club 11th. We've met Wrington before on this blog, when they succumbed to a 6-3 defeat at the hands of Shirehampton at their Penpole Lane ground. Fry Club were formed in 1917 as the team of the Fry's Chocolate Company at the Somerdale Factory in Keynsham and play their games at a facility built by the company, also named Fry Club.

I'd already checked-out the Hand Stadium in passing last year, stopping for a mooch whilst on an errand in Clevedon. Remarking online that it looked like a quite a tidy facility, prominent Bristol groundhopper Terry Nutkin was on hand to offer a typically nuanced nugget of guidance:

Clevedon Town (formed in 1880) have previously played at a much higher level than where they currently find themselves, spending over two decades between 1993 and 2015 in the Southern League, hence the ground is a little more salubrious than you'd expect from a mid-table Western League Premier club. Terry and others had described it as being too out of the way from Clevedon and having the feel of a bad nightclub in the middle of nowhere. Ever the contrarian, I had decided long ago to have a look for myself and see if there was anything to be liked.

The stadium is named in honour of the Hand family who Wikipedia informs me were involved, through successive generations, in running the club for over 100 years. The Seasiders moved from their old Teignmouth Road ground to the Hand Stadium in 1992. In 2015 the leisure company Everyone Active invested half a million into the ground, setting up a gym and function rooms in the process. Right off the bat I had to concede that the ground's critics had a point about it's remote location. It's roughly 2 miles from Clevedon proper in a small village called Kenn, down several single-track roads and nestled between various farm buildings. You certainly wouldn't want to walk there and I cannot imagine the mayhem that would've ensued on the roads on the day the ground's record attendance of 2,261 was set when Chester City came to town in the FA Cup in 2006.

Upon entering the ground I was instantly hit by how, much like Melksham Town's new ground, it resembled the stadium you get given if you start as a non-league team on Football Manager. The main stand holds six blocks of raised seats in rows of four, all under the cover of a metal corrugated roof. The seats look wildly out of proportion compared to the size of the stand, covering only about two-thirds of the huge stone building but they do afford a decent enough view. In the seatless third of the stand there is a tea hatch and a small bar which was closed today.

On the opposite side to the main stand is a long covered terrace, six steps high, spanning the length of the pitch. In truth, it was mainly this terrace that made me think that the Hand looked pretty impressive during my aforementioned brief glance through the gates. I imagine it would be quite a fun place to stand if there was a good crowd in attendance but sadly Clevedon struggle to break 100 these days and the terrace cut a desolate figure on this grey Somerset afternoon. 

Behind the goals are two uncovered terraces with the furthest being inaccessible today as it is still rather amazingly set up to allow segregation, with it's own set of turnstiles. The large tufts of plant life sprouting from the cracks in the concrete suggest this hasn't been needed for a while. Although far too big for current purpose, largely devoid of quirk and somewhat tatty in places, the Hand's main stand and opposing terrace are well maintained and provide ample, element-resistant vantage points for both the sitting and standing favouring member of the Clevedon faithful. Incidentally if anyone from Everyone Active is reading this, I am available for brochure writing services at a very reasonable fee.

The match began and within three minutes Wrington were ahead after converting a simple cross from down near the corner flag. Not a lot happened for the next 20 minutes so we had to amuse ourselves by following the antics of a Fry Club forward we had affectionately dubbed "Angry Number 9". Angry Number 9 got his title early on when he was engaged in a tussle for the ball and whilst spinning around after it got away, left his arms around the opposing player and to quote my notepad: "suplexed a fool".

Angry was more justified in his rage later on in the first half when he was blatantly hacked down right in front of the lino. As the game went on around him, he slowly stood up and admonished the official with "Are you looking? Then what the fuck are you stood there for!" As this is going on his teammate, who had latched onto the ball he'd lost had drew Fry Club level. As the teams returned to the centre spot, Angry made his frustrations clear to the ref, who responded wearily with "Well obviously the advantage was played. Your team just scored!"

Just before half time a ball rose slowly into the air just outside the Wrington box and much to the collective amazement of the few dozen of us watching, a Fry's player jumped up to volley a perfect overhead bicycle kick over the stunned home keeper. Obviously this chap, like me, had been staying up to watch the Beach Soccer World Cup where every third crack at goal is a bicy and fancied a go himself. Needless to say we were overjoyed to have witnessed such greatness in the humble Somerset County League.

During the second half the threatening-looking grey clouds that were amassing finally gave way to a mini-deluge that caused us to retreat into the seated stand as the players continued to battle it out for those final, meaningless end-of-season three points. Keeping Wrington in the running was the willowy, baseball cap wearing goalkeeper known only to us as James. The young player dealt with numerous attempts on goal manfully, including one from our pal Angry so it's likely that James will end up with a horse's head on his pillow tomorrow morning.

The main event of the second half was a moment where a lino who looked not unlike Glenn Cullen from The Thick of It snapped under the abuse from one of the managers and turned on him in a gesture of headmasterly control, extended a finger into his red shouty mug and repeatedly bellowed "SIT DOWN" until the gaffer sheepishly did so. What a man. The half was fairly end on end but sadly there would be no more goals for me to write about, despite Wrington troubling the keeper from afar late in the day, with the parried save almost being bundled into goal.

I maintain that the Hand Stadium is one of the better equipped Western League stadiums and it would be nice to see it with some bumper crowds in future but it's down to Clevedon and Everyone Active to make them happen. For now though it was time to go home and think about how I'd rage against the dying of the fixture schedule next weekend.

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