Friday, 6 October 2017

#60 Badgers Hill, Frome Town

Frome Town 0 Hereford 3
Wednesday 27th September 2017, Southern League Premier Division

Readers will by now be well aware of my main motivating factor this season: beating the East Riding eejit that is Daz Knapton. With my main rival stuck doing late shifts this week, not to mention the prospect of the Western League Groundhop next weekend where Daz would be ticking off five new grounds compared to the three that would be new to me. So, like the man who affixes a superfluous noise-generating exhaust to his Fiat Punto after his neighbor buys a sports car, I continue to attempt to close the gap with the least amount of effort possible. 

The most interesting and easily accessible match on this Wednesday night was a Southern League Premier clash between Frome Town, who were playing their seventh consecutive season in the 7th tier and the reformed Hereford who, symbolically enough, find themselves back in the division they were cast down into for the 2014-15 season but didn't survive for long enough to play in. We all know the tale of Hereford United's final years so I won't bore you with the sorry details, instead I'll move right along to the happier sequel. Since launching in 2014 the phoenix club have done pretty much exactly as well as everyone expected them to. Two successive promotions (both as champions) from the Midland Premier and the Southern South & West, scooping up two Herefordshire County Cups and a Midland Football League Cup as well as retaining attendances in the mid-2000s with the odd sell-out match, the journey back has been a pleasant one for the Bulls faithful. The only slight blotch in the record being losing the 2016 FA Vase final at Wembley to Northumberland's Morpeth Town but judging by the guard of honor the Hereford players made for them as they received their trophy, they weren't taking it too hard. For fans, it seemed enough simply to be back at the national stadium with a 20,000 strong following behind them.

For the Robins of Frome Town progress has come at a more steady pace. Languishing in the Western League pretty much from their inception until 2010 when they were promoted as runners-up due to our old pal ground grading denying Bitton the opportunity. Their next chance to push on came after only two seasons in the eighth tier when they faced Sholing in the play-offs and overcame them 1-0 away from home. Their best FA Cup performance came way back in 1954–55 when a crowd of 8,000 saw them defeated by Leyton Orient and they reached the quarter-finals of the FA Vase in 2004–05. Hereford will again be strong favorites for promotion but at the time of writing were in 7th place, fighting Banbury United and Slough Town for the final play-off place. Frome sat in a respectable but unspectacular 11th place, which was about customary for them since joining the league. Expecting a tight encounter with Hereford emerging victorious, I set off for the Special Effect™ Stadium (also sponsored by Raves from the Grave Independent Record Shop™) straight from work. 

The weather had been pretty rank all day with multiple scattered showers and by the time I got there the light had all but receded, perfect autumnal evening kick-off conditions. As expected the Hereford fans had traveled well, swelling the attendance from Frome's typical 250 to 531. While there were a lot of black and white shirts and scarfs dotted around, it was quite difficult to discern whom the various flatcap-wearing men were aligned to, this being a midlands/west country cider-swilling, farmer derby ooh-ar ooh-ar etc. 

Farmhand casuals: this tweed don't run.
Whilst waiting for the game to start I decided I'd check the line-ups for luminaries and nearly spat-take my beer to discover that the Nouveau Bulls were managed by none other than former Rovers, Gillingham and City man Peter Beadle. Noticeably rotunder than in his playing days but an interesting name nonetheless. This shouldn't have surprised me as Peter was caretaker manager for Hereford United (becoming the old club's penultimate gaffer) for a month in 2014 after leaving Newport County and having a brief and disastrous spell at Clevedon Town. I'd just lost track of the bloke. Other notables were former Bulls players Ryan Green and Rob Purdie and 20 year-old Cheltenham starlet Adam Page on his second loan to the club. Interestingly, Wikipedia claim that Hereford have a player duel-registered with Partizan Bristle favorites Hereford Lad's Club in the form of Harry Franklin. However unless it turned out to be their Claudio Sanchez lookalike, I wouldn't have known.

Notable Frome players included Darren Jefferies who had a brief spell with Rovers as a youth and George Miller who made appearances with Preston North End and Accrington Stanley as is currently duel-registered with Gloucester City in Conference South. On the subject of former players, I noticed that some Hereford fans had a flag bearing the name Adam Stansfield, a well-known figure in the West Country lower leagues who spent two seasons with Hereford between 2004 and 2006. A Yeovil lad, Stansfield won an FA Trophy with his hometown club and promotion into the league via play-offs with the Bulls and Exeter City, going on to make 160 appearances for the latter. Tragically, Stansfield died in 2010 aged just 31 after a short battle with colorectal cancer. After so many appearances and two promotions the man is an Exeter legend but it was nice to see a former club he didn't spend all that long at honouring him, obviously a bloke that touched many lives.

Badgers Hill is another West Country ground that's spectacularly well hidden when approached from the road. Concealed behind a thick hedgerow with only a slightly out-of-place looking PVC door wedged in it to hint at what lies behind, I managed to drive straight past until I clocked a sign for overflow car-parking at a nearby school. They were obviously expecting a crowd. With over an hour to go I plodded down the hill for some beer and cricket at the nearby Vine Tree pub where I was immediately taken a dislike to by the landlady's small yappy dog. By the time I entered the ground at about 19:10 it was still fairly empty so I took the chance to mooch around and take pictures unhindered by the anticipated throngs of Herefordians.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the clubhouse behind the near goal which, in an act of non-league ingenuity, was kind of half clubhouse half covered stand. The building has a large roofed porch coming off the entrances which provides a decent elevated view and ample space for wheelchair users. There is also a ground-level path in front which can house the same amount of standers behind the goal. The whole thing essentially creates a very sparse two-level terrace and watching the match just inches from warmth and provisions is the stuff of dreams, imagine being a Frome fan on a cold Tuesday in January watching them get battered and being able to just slink off like that. The dream. On the far side of the ground there is a massive roofed-off section which is so tall it kind of looks like a barn that's been sawed in half. It's height and the fact that there are some rickety-looking wooden crush barriers at the front would make you think that it's a terrace but it's actually just a slight hill, so it's not the best use of space but it does the job and there'd be room for improvement if needed.

Behind the far goal there's a pretty standard easy build seated stand nice and close to the action. Finally there's the main stand on the near side of the ground, a breezeblock affair with five rows of seats under cover and six thin metal pillars supporting the corrugated metal roof. I'd wager it's a little on the old side as most of the seats are pretty faded and the few that stick out from under the end of the roof look completely sun-bleached. Looking at old pictures of Badgers Hill online tells me the ground has changed a lot over the years. The main stand for example was half standing half terrace as recently as 2008 and at some point was a classic wooden stand. As far back as 2004 the sheltered standing opposite the main stand wasn't there, instead that side of the ground was taken up by an approach road running right down the side of the pitch. At some point before that there was a proper terrace on that side but that looks to be long gone. It would seem that a lot of the modernising work was carried out with a view to making the ground more enclosed and overall it wasn't a bad place to be, I even overheard some Hereford fans say it was one of the better grounds they'd been to so far in their mystical non-league journey.

The only part of the ground that looks a little on the tatty side is the small white brick hut that acts as the players changing room. It's size and general ramshackleness makes it look like the home of a ridiculously stereotypical farmer character from a children's stop-motion animation named something like Cowpatty Burt. It's things like this that make me wonder what Hereford's old heads and fans are making of clubs like Frome and the sleepy towns that surround them.

"WHO'S JOCKSTRAP IS THIS?" bellowed Burt.
The game kicked-off and Frome were narrowly on top of a very aerial game in the opening exchanges. Hereford must have felt under some duress as their fans felt the need to bring out their solitary drum. On 11 minutes Hereford force a quick succession of goal-line clearances from a lobbed cross that got closer to the goal than I think anyone was expecting but with 20 minutes gone the game was still anyone's. Frome are able to get forward a lot and make some genuinely lovely touches but play a lot of hopeful balls and have their passes cut out too often. Hereford for their part cross the ball with real menace, when they're given the chance.

I was all settled in for a tight battle until Garyn Preen opened up the scoring in the 24th minute for Hereford when an attacking player cut in from the wing and stuck a cross into the box. This was headed away but only as far as Preen who dodged a tackle, steadied himself and launched a shot from outside the box. Frome keeper Kyle Phillips ducked down and looked like he'd got it under control but somehow the ball squirmed under him and rolled into the back of the net. A hell of a blow for Frome who were more than matching their opponents until this moment.

The goal knocks a lot of the wind out of the home side's sails and John Mills is able to make it 2-0 in the 37nd minute. A ball was floated to the edge of the box inch-perfectly for the rapidly encroaching Mills to volley into the bottom-right of goal past the diving hands of Phillips. A peach of a goal. 

Frome really needed a goal or half-time to come to them and fast but unfortunately their torment wasn't over. In the 41st minute A ball was pinged from the centre of the pitch to the left wing where Preen took it past the sole defender right down to the touch line and sent it skimming along the ground across the face of goal and Keyon Reffell stepped forward for the easiest tap-in of his life. The least spectacular of the three goals but still a slick bit of passing from Hereford. 

Cheers Soapy me old mate, you've always been there for me.
During second half I decided I'd wander over to the seats behind the Frome goal as a cricket score looked like a distinct possibility. As I sat enjoying the songs and jubilation of the Hereford fans beside me, I caught someone waving at me out of the corner of my eye. This turned out to be Matt of Gone For A Burton, a fellow Bristol groundhopper that I'd first met last year at Larkhall Athletic. Unfortunately for him, Matt had pied off the first half and therefore missed all of the goals. Serves him right for sneaking in. As a magistrate of the Groundhopper's Supreme Court Matt naturally asked me if I reckoned he was still allowed to tick off the ground. I decided in his favor because I am kind and benevolent like that. Part of the reason for him coming down to Frome was to attend a game with his mate Ben, who had only just moved to Frome. 

Truthfully, though the Hereford boys continued to pepper the Frome goal for the first 20 minutes or so of the second half, we'd seen the best moments of the match in the first 45. Looking for entertainment, we went over to watch the assistant running the line nearest the entrance who was apparently Ben's mate. I'm sure he did him proud. Despite some mild fisticuffs after a Frome player flattened a Hereford midfielder there wasn't much more to write about. Unfortunately my wait for a non-league mass brawl continues. Here's hoping next weekend's Western League Groundhop (7 games in 3 days) delivers. 

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