Sunday 8th October 2017, Western League Premier Division
Today was never likely to be easy. After a long Saturday evening of footy where we saw some classic battles in the form of Odd Down vs. Bitton (2-2), Hengrove Athletic vs. Hallen (3-3), Tom & Daz vs. Pints (24-0) and Tom vs. Fridge Door (0-1), we were perhaps understandably tired and feeling a considerable amount of regret. The hop stops for no man however, so it was time to get in my car and pootle off to darkest Somerset for round three of the Western League marathon.
It was always going to be a struggle to get to the game on time but it didn't help that we'd read the wrong time off the website so once we arrived we'd missed the first half an hour and two goals, one being scored mere seconds before our entrance judging by the roar of the crowd as we walked up to the ground. Luckily Duke (who seems to turn up at every ground I go to these days) was on hand to clue us in. Dressed resplendently in khaki raincoat and cap, fresh from his morning hike up Glastonbury tor and looking somewhere between Swedish backpacker and Polish hooligan, he explained that the goals were nothing too special and as I can't find any match reports online that'll have to do.
The stands of the ground are greatly varied in terms of both age, size and shabbiness. When we got into the ground we immediately took up position in the standing section opposite the main stand, a modern curved cantilever roofed contraption that kind of reminded me of the weird, new-age motorway services they have in Gloucester. No really. It has two levels to watch from and some Blackthorn adverts running along the back, the latest attempt from the ailing company to win back the crown from Thatchers in this all-important constituency. The adjacent main stand is a big rickety corrugated iron beast with the same traditional wooden steps we saw yesterday at Radstock but this time with and black and white plastic chairs tacked on in an effort to move with the times. These chairs also featured in the noticeably squat team shelters, which Jack expressed a dislike to as in his own words: "You don't want separate chairs on your bench. Not at this level. That's Tory. You want a good socialist bench that everyone can share." Whatever that means.
|Maggie's very own technical area.|
A sign that Mallet had their gaze firmly on the stars was the small square of metal cut out at the back of the main stand ready for the inevitable day the TV cameras roll in. The stand extends back so far that the tree branches and fence behind combine to form a little tunnel that you have to pass through to get to the rest of the ground. The only other structure in the ground apart from the clubhouse is a squat little modern seated stand called "The Dean Gregort (Gregsy) Memorial Stand" [sic]. This sits to the side of the near goal and has room for about 30, plus 2 if you count the tiny stone bench right next to it. Spoilt for choice this lot.
West Shepton Playing Fields is another lush, conifer entombed arena rich in small west country town sleepiness and hearty, full-blooded (and often slightly unhinged) Western League football skirmishing. It might just be because I was feeling quite sensitive to noise that morning but the game did strike me as the most ill-tempered of the seven matches, with plenty of inter-team mate bickering and general effing and jeffing. This intensity extended even to the crowd, none more so than a lone gentleman stood in front of us, freshly purchased copy of Western League: the First 125 Years tucked under his arm who was keeping a forceful, mumbled commentary to himself, seemingly not supporting either team but encouraging violent play and admonishing any and all referee interference in typical old guy footy fan fashion.
Looking resplendent in their black and white quartered shirts it was the home side that were really dominating proceedings, in more ways than just their two goal advantage. The Mallet looked stronger, better organised and more up for it on the day, possibly due to the inflated attendance. Shortly into the second half Mallet added a third goal, as a player took the ball down the wing and round the back of the defenders to put in the cross. Unfortunately no one got on the end of this for the easy tap-in but it eventually did fall to Ash Willmott who lobbed it back into the box for James Billing to nod in to the bottom corner.
Brislington do finally pull back a consolation goal in hilarious fashion as an ambitious bicey fails utterly but the resultant stray ball is tucked away but another forward, who might have just preferred a simple pass, was facing in the correct direction. Mallet reassert their dominance very quickly through a lofted through-ball on the break which Billing raced forward with until it was one-on-one. Full of confidence, the forward stuck it into the top of the net from 18 yards to complete his hat-trick.
Of the three new grounds on this trip I'd have to say West Shipton Playing Fields was my favourite. A nice easy-to-follow one-sided game in the sun was a great way to blow off the cobwebs of the morning and get warmed up for what would be the most thrilling game of the seven later on that afternoon.