Wednesday 20th September 2017, FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
As September began making eyes at the bar and shuffling off stage left like a disinterested am dram performer, I was being left even further in the dust by my friend and colleague Daz Knapton in our new ground race. To make matters worse, we had spent the previous evening together watching a very entertaining Football League Cup encounter between Wolves and Rovers at the Molineux, ending in a 1-0 victory for our Championship-dwelling hosts in extra time. The downside to this enjoyable outing was the fact that this was yet another new ground for Daz and only a revisit for me, putting him 7 (seven) ahead of me.
The match at Wolves had left me feeling particularly up for the cup and after scanning the fixtures list I settled on a local match between two Western League sides taking place in Cadbury Heath, South Gloucestershire. Cadbury Heath isn't an area I'm familiar with and turning to Wikipedia to fill me in on a little local knowledge turned out to be a fool's errand.
|The mother of all stubs.|
What I can tell you is that it was a half hour drive from Shirehampton and it's near Longwell Green. Journalism.
Since winning the Western League First Division in 2011/12 Cadbury Heath or; the Heathens, are now an established Premier Division team that’ve finished upper-mid table for the last five seasons. They currently sit in 18th place but are many matches behind the rest of the pack due to cup chaos. It’s pretty much the same story with Dorset’s Bridport except they made the step up a year before Cadbury when they finished the 2010/11 season in third, pipping second-placed Oldland Abbotonians to promotion due to ground grading. A win today would equal the Bees’ best ever FA Cup run from the 1957–58 season where they were knocked out in the third qualifying round away at Portland United. Cadbury’s greatest ever run was in fact last season, where they too were knocked out in the third round qualifying away at Burgess Hill Town. Add to the mix that this is a replay (the fixture at Bridport ended 2-2) and this was on paper a very close contest indeed.
Springfield is a fenced-off area of a much larger public playing field, meaning on a number of occasions dogwalkers would pass by and have a chat with their neighbours watching the game. The two stands consist of a large old brick covered standing area and a modern metal seated stand. The standing area is a particularly congenial little nook with only a single step of terracing running along the back, most of which was taken up with various bits of furniture the club seems to be storing there. This stand is so cosy that the tea hatch is actually built into it, leaving no reason for the weather-beaten Western League codger to ever leave this stoney womb in search of caffeinated refreshment. If you want something stronger through you’ll have to venture across the field into the clubhouse where they hawk the beers and baps. There’s not really a lot to say about the seated stand, it’s the same covered metal contraption that you see in a lot of Western League grounds, practical but quirkless. The pitch itself is surrounded by white railing supported by concrete pillars that are painted alternately red and white (the club’s colours) leading to a pleasing old-timey barbers/sweetshop aesthetic.
The ground as a whole was positively buzzing with anticipation as just over 200 hot for the pot (sorry I’l stop this now) Heatheans and Bridportese packed the ground. There was, it must be said, a fair smattering of hardy Dorset folk who’d made the two hour trip on this soggy Wednesday evening. A doff of the PB hooded cagoule to them. Not wanting to disappoint, Bridport notched the first goal after 8 minutes as Richard Hebditch got on the end of a low cross and struck home from 6 yards, sending the gaggle of balloon-wielding Dorset teenagers behind the goal into a Panda Pop induced frenzy. Fourteen minutes later the Bees produce an absolute screamer from 35 yards as Tom Richardson launces a volley over the keeper and into the top left corner, a textbook example of what we in the industry call a “dipping thunderbastard”.
This cracking goal, the best I’ve seen this season, goes straight to the heads of the Bridport yoof who begin chanting “you’re just a shit make of chocolate” to their West Country equivalents. The opposing Heath fans don’t have the cutting wit to match but what they do have is a big red airhorn that they begin to sound off whenever the Bridport keeper goes to gather a ball. It doesn’t really work. These rampant displays of hooliganism bear a striking contrast to the lovely old bloke sat in the stands who offers support the only way a stately vintage gentleman can, by swinging a retro wooden football rattle about excitedly whenever the Bees break. Bridport absolutely run the show during the first half and could have quite easily been five up by half time. It was difficult to see how the Heath were going to come back from this one.
As cliched as it is to say, football sometimes really is a game of two halves. Cadbury had their tails up from the word go in the second half and got their first goal of the night after 61 minutes. A ball in from the wing was played into the centre and picked up by Simon McElroy who made a very determined run into a shooting position and drove it low, taking advantage of the now sopping wet surface. Heath continued to push and McElroy nearly snapped the post in half with a shot in the 80th minute as the keeper stood rooted to the spot. The resultant goal line scramble when the ball ricocheted off was eventually dealt with by Bridport. Just as it seemed nothing would be enough for Heath to get the second goal they deserved, Matt Huxley wriggled past his marker on the right wing and sprinted himself into a one-on-one with the advancing Brid keeper, opening a window for a simple chipped goal.
Heath came agonisingly close to achieving something I've been desperate to see since I started groundhopping, namely a keeper scoring after coming up from a corner but it seemed Jack and I were destined to watch another period of extra time on a school night. I can only conclude football doesn't want me to sleep. Jack pointed out to me that Cadbury's pitch was very sloping, which isn't uncommon in the Western League by any means but this one undulates pretty wildly in several different spots rather than having a simple slant to one side. This might go some way to explaining the wild disparity in both teams' performance over the two halves.
During extra time the two gangs of ultras elected to both stand behind the same goal and for once the general tranquillity of the deep non-league threatened to break as a few of the Bridport yoof got a bit salty. Two of the little scamps came running back to their elders in the stand where we were, grinning from ear-to-ear claiming "Jay's about to get sparked out!" Clearly finished off the Panda Pops and dived right into the Sherbet Fountains. We can only hope Jay finds the help he so clearly needs at this difficult time in a young man's life.
|OH GOD WHAT?|
After 19 minutes of damp, chilly struggle it was Bridport who walked away with the victory as Ed Butcher cut in from the left and fired past a diving Dan Worton to send the travelling fans wild. The previously absconded teens raced back to their comrades behind the goal to join in the goading of their Cadbury counterparts. As they rushed past the stand, an elder shouted out “keep them teeth in Jay!” to which Jay responded “I’ll try!”