Wednesday 30th August 2017, Western League Division One
Having just started a new job this morning, I really wasn't looking to go to a match tonight. However since foolheartedly challenging my friend and colleague Daz Knapton to a who can get the most new grounds in a season contest a few months back, I had allowed myself to get left behind. So far behind in fact that he had chalked up a whopping 11 (eleven) new visits compared to my paltry five, actually one down on where I was this time last season. Daz has never been one to pull his punches. Although it looks bad now, as a theatre technician Daz will be pretty busy over the Christmas period so as long as I can get within touching distance of his total I can hopefully pull it back then. Hopefully. With that in mind I was on the lookout for an easy excursion and Oldland Abbotonians fit the bill. Hailing from Oldland Common, South Gloucestershire, the O's Aitchison Playing Field is a mere 20 mile drive from my flat making them the best option on this balmy Wednesday evening.
The club was formed in 1910 as St. Annes (Oldland) before changing their name to Oldland Decora in 1986 then taking their current incarnation in 1998 after a merger with Longwell Green Abbotonians. They took the latter's place in the Somerset County League and eventually won promotion to the Western League in 2007. Since then they've pootled along with no cup runs of note that I can find but they did finish as runners-up in the First Division for the 2010/11 season. Oldland's most famous son in a roundabout way is Ian Holloway, who is the son of former chairman Bill Holloway. After my first two competitive fixtures of the season, Bohemians 1905 vs. MFK Karviná and Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers, I was very much looking forward to a serene, no-frills Western League encounter and cracking on with my side-quest to complete the league.
I arrived at the ground just as the players were coming out of the clubhouse and felt pretty pleased with myself for nabbing the last space in the car park. This uncharacteristic bout of competence proved to be short-lived when I went on to annoy the gate man by handing him a £20 note for my entry fee as it was all I had. This forced him to go along the queue that I had created bartering for smaller currency. Good to be back. As I walked around taking my pictures, a heavy drizzle descended on the ground and I sought shelter in the nearest stand. Upon reaching the small stand situated to the side of the team benches I discovered that it was not only locked but completely covered in fencing with chicken wire sized gaps, making it look like some kind of holding pen.
|The Reg Hamblin Stand for Wayward Boys|
Aside from this funny little stand Aitchison also has the Alan Bush Stand which is the main stand in the ground, quite a long, boxed-in covered brick structure which runs along the opposite side of the pitch. The stand contains a good amount of seats attached to rows of raised stone that run along the floor. Weirdly it actually has full-on fenced segregation which, considering the mini prison stand opposite, leads me to wonder what on earth went down at Oldland to warrant such measures. The segregated part of the stand was closed today and the Ashton and Backwell fans mingled happily with their opponents, as it should be in non-league.
I found a seat in the main stand and was instantly made to feel at home by some of the familiar trappings of the Western League. Namely an old boy tuning into a random horse race on a portable radio and blaring it out for the whole stand to hear and another bloke who had brought along a small sausage dog wearing a blue scarf adorned with little footballs. The latter chap later asked me to take a picture of him holding his cylindrical chum on his phone for Non-League Dogs who seem to have become a bit of an institution. If I had to make one negative observation it would be that the view sat in the stand is a little restricted by the many pillars and high wall. Preferable in many ways to a ball in the face though.
Listening to the shouts from the crowd during play it seemed to me that Ashton had more fans in attendance than Oldland and to be fair it was the away side that played with the most organisation and attacking threat in the opening exchanges. Having said that Ashton's goalkeeper, who's kit bore a striking resemblance to Peter Parker's prototype Spiderman costume from the first Sam Raimi movie, made a couple of good saves from Oldland attempts against the run of play. There was a fair amount of action in the middle of the park and more than a few clatterings that are the hallmarks of a tight Toolstation League encounter. Early on Ashton and Backwell are kept out at close range twice in quick succession which is the best chance of the half. Oldland are slightly more hapless going forward, as evidenced by them trying to take a free kick from an attacking position quickly but playing themselves offside in the process.
There was a particularly enjoyable moment right out the blocks in the second half; the Oldland captain was doing the normal thing of stalking about the pitch, clapping, shouting and generally psyching his teammates up for the upcoming 45 minutes. This clearly worked a little too well on the forward charged with taking the first kick as he, much to the annoyance of his captain, booted the ball straight off the far side of the pitch for a goal kick. With that little hiccup out of the way, Oldland manage to get a few decent attempts in, including one involving a beautiful back heel pass that was disappointingly shot wide. For the away team's part, their best chance came when a player got into a one-on-one with the Oldland keeper with an option to pass to his side but in the end all he could muster was the tamest grass cutter I've ever seen which was off target anyway. A bore draw looked to be a distinct possibility.
|Spiderman, Spiderman, portly goalkeeping Spiderman.|
Oldland nearly get the first goal with a chipped ball from a crazy angle that didn't at first look at all threatening but dipped towards goal, meaning Spiderman had to leap to tip it over the crossbar. However the resulting Oldland corner was met with a bullet header from Scott Gregory into the net for the opener. Soon after, Ashton and Backwell get another free-kick in an inviting part of the opposition area and this time manage a shot on goal but it's caught in the corner of the net. Soon after this play is halted as it appears that after losing five of them over the hedge during the match, the home team were out of balls. There was a good five minute break in play as various people, including myself, began checking the next field and the car park for precious wayward spheres. A couple of people were less patient, suggesting jokingly that the game be called off and Ashton awarded all three points. Just as I was about to suggest that they use the old football that I'd seen sat in a trophy behind the bar, a couple of subs produced a fresh bag from the clubhouse and the game could continue.
Unfazed by this nonsense, Ashton and Backwell charge forward and get into a position where the only recourse for the Oldland keeper is to leave his goal and attempt a tackle, which is a good one but left himself and the attacking player in a heap on the ground. The Ashton player (Sam Skidmore) got to his feet first and shot into the open net before a defender could get in a position to do anything about it. The keeper remained on the floor for a minute or two, clearly in pain so he could be forgiven for being beaten this time.
A draw felt like a fair scoreline for this match but it wasn't over yet. A rebound off an Ashton defender came out just past the D and was met with a surprisingly balletic turn from an Oldland player who unleashed a screamer towards goal that was saved by the increasingly impressive Spiderman, who made a very good block but was unable to catch the ball leaving it to roll menacingly towards the bottom corner. This unexpected chance was dealt with in the nick of time by an Ashton defender with a sliding clearance. This was to be the best chance at nicking the game either team would get despite an end-to-end last ten minutes with Oldland looking a lot more composed than they had done in the first half. Eventually there was a typically tenth tier attempt at handbags between two players which kind of killed the momentum and the game would finish a very fair 1-1 draw.
A good trip out to shake off those Western League cobwebs and complete my fifteenth current ground in the league. Still a long way to go on that particular quest.