Tuesday, 25 July 2017

#53 Wordsworth Drive, Taunton Town

Taunton Town 2 Bristol Rovers 2

Tuesday 18th July 2017, Pre-season Friendly

We were now about half way through pre-season. I hadn't done any new grounds for a while because I was busy on the 15th when Rovers took on Gloucester City at Slimbridge and didn't fancy paying the £12 Weston-Super-Mare were asking for on the 11th. The two games I had seen since Brimscombe were an 11-0 trouncing of Bristol Manor Farm at home against a Bristol City XI (boo) and the first half of a 2-1 victory for Avonmouth against St. George Easton in Gordano in their annual pre-season tourney the Evelyn Rowley Cup (yay).

As us full-blooded, muscular gentlemen often do, my colleague Daz Knapton and I had gotten carried away and laid down a challenge for this season to see who could get the most new grounds. With his visit to South Normanton Athletic on the Monday I was now lagging behind and would need to find a ground, any ground, to draw even for the sake of male pride. Expect this to become a theme this season. While the more adventurous Gasheads were all out in Albufeira watching the first team take on Hull at Estadio da Nora (home of Portuguese third division team F.C. Ferreiras), I opted to save my pennies and make the quick trip to Taunton to watch a selection of kids battle it out against the Somerset side.

Taunton Town play in the Southern League Division One South & West. They were finally allowed up from the Western League Premier in 2002 after alternating between finishing as champions and runners-up for 7 (seven) seasons. They had a decent FA Cup run last season, getting to the first round proper of the competition for the second time in their history and losing in a replay to Barrow, who famously and predictably knocked Rovers out of the competition at the Mem. Considering the bulk of our forces would be battling it out on the continent, I thought I'd play it safe and predict a 2-2 draw for this outing.

Jack and I left Bristol at about 18:10, even though the drive would be less than an hour because I knew our history of making it to games on time. Arriving in plenty of time for once was a surreal experience which left us plenty of time to grab a pint and poke around the stadium. Notably in attendance early doors were a group of about 10 Taunton supporters equipped with a drum standing behind one of the goals signing and banging away during the warm-up. Points for effort but their chants about Bristol City didn't really endear me to them. I guess it should be expected that in this part of the country most people are part-time City fans. Still if 417 folks (about equal with their normal league attendance) can be drawn out to watch a pre-season friendly against a mere Rovers youth side then we can only take that as a compliment.

Wordsworth Drive (or The Viridor Stadium for sponsorship purposes) is a very varied ground with a lot of different stands and sections so hang on tight for a lot of those wonderful paragraphs where I describe a shed in great detail. It's hard to say which of the stands one would classify as the main stand but the largest one is on the side of the pitch opposite the clubhouse and runs the full length of the pitch with a couple of rows of claret and blue seats under cover. One end of this stand is book-ended by a massive windowless shed of unknown utility painted snot green, a wonderful addition indeed. The end where the Taultras were gathered is a three-stepped terrace with a cantilever roof that shelters the middle portion and the end opposite looked to be identical, although I didn't go over there at any point so I can't be certain. 

The side that we stuck to (as it was closest to the bar) was mostly flat hard standing but did have a small and very ancient-looking seated stand with a moss-covered corrugated iron roof and three rows of seats with five large metal pillars running through the middle row. Finally there's another small terrace, this one uncovered, to the side of this small seated stand. Add to this a spacious clubhouse with a decent range of ciders and a nice sense of seclusion despite being on a main road and Wordsworth Drive is quite a decent ground. It's maybe a little more rustic than say Cossham Street or the Ray Mac but it was a nice place to be on this warm evening as dusk slowly drew in.

It was difficult to predict who would actually be playing for Rovers in the match. It wasn't billed as an academy match but literally every player I could name was out in Portugal, including youth teamers Cameron Hargreaves, Luke Russe and the newly-signed Rollin Menayese as well as two trialists. Luckily we had the likes of Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist who had scored the opener against Mangotsfield earlier in pre-season and our Jordanian wonder-kid Ghassan Abu Hassan on hand to give these filthy Somerset types a run for their money. It was also a pleasure to see long-serving recently retired Rovers goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall being his signature encouraging self in his new role as coach for the U23 team.

Throughout the 90 minutes the teams were markedly well matched with Rovers' speed and trickiness snuffed out by Taunton's physicality and teamwork. It was the home side that had the first real chance when Matt Wright headed the ball powerfully into the post from a cross, admirably taking the bellowed advice of Peacocks gaffer Leigh Robinson for him to to "USE YA NODDLE!" to heart. This was a let-off for Rovers but in truth we have a very good 3rd-choice keeper indeed in Kieran Hodges, who made several vital saves during the first half including some real close-range face rearrangers.

4 minutes before the break la petite Gas opened proceedings through a 25-yard Ben Morgan screamer from a central position which dipped beautifully into goal. Taunton would have to wait until the 71st minute for their first taste of the net as Shane White floated a lovely free-kick from midfield into the box for Aaron Pugh to convert for the equaliser. The jubilation around the ground was only slightly tainted by the tannoy blasting Glad All Over in super low-fidelity tinny-o-phonic sound.

A Rovers youngster who's name I never discovered but was rocking some stunning late-90s frosted tips nearly put us ahead on the break but seemed to overthink his one-on-one with the keeper and left the shot until he'd run himself into an impossible scoring angle. Rovers did get their second goal soon after through trialist Dylan McGlade, who cut in from the right on the 89th minute and shot into the bottom corner.

You'd think that would be the end of it but Taunton had other ideas. Another trialist named Joe Charles went on a snaky run down the right wing and put a low cross into the box for substitute Ross Staley to smash home for the injury time equaliser. A bit of an easy goal to concede at the death from the Rovers youngsters who probably thought they were home and dry but nicely set-up all the same and a fair scoreline at the final whistle.

This trip briefly made me wish that more football was played in the summer months. I always enjoy pre-season for the knock-down prices and wacky team match-ups but the long evenings where I can attend the game in a t-shirt are an added bonus. I had to quickly rescind this opinion after I was strongly reprimanded by Jack for my fleeting un-British advocation of a winter break and the fact that my legs had been bitten to death by flying ants by the end of the match. During the trip home I was treated to a range of "feel good Latin and Zulu bangers" from Jack's phone played at full-volume. Always a pleasure to share a journey with Jack.

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