Sunday 29th October 2017, South West Women's Football League Premier Division
It was a lazy dog-dangling afternoon in North Bristol. I spent the previous afternoon watching Rovers overcome MK Dons in a hard-fought and mostly quite dull 2-0 win at the Mem. With a totally free Sunday ahead of me I was in the mood for a nice simple local match. A pasty of a match, if you will.
Although AEK Boco sound like one of those obscure Cypriot teams that get pummelled in the Champions League every year, they are in fact a Gloucestershire County League team from Hanham. They got their odd name when they formed in 2003 as a merger of two local youth sides named AEK Rangers and Boco Juniors (who were themselves named after the Argentinian Champions). They club focused on youth development and helped produce such household names as Julian Dicks, Mark Cooper and Paul Mardon. On the senior side of things Boco first joined the Gloucestershire County League in 2014-15 and immediately finished as runner-up in only their first season on goal difference. They built on this by winning the league the season after but didn't go up to the Western League, the ground is barren enough that it's hard to imagine they applied to. The club levelled out last season to a respectable mid-table 7th. As for the ladies team (or Bocettes, if you will) they won a double in 2015-16 where they finished the Gloucestershire County Womens Football League season as champions and overcame Abbeymead Rovers Ladies 8-0 at Oaklands Park to bag the Gordon Perrett Memorial Cup. The next season they finished as runners-up in the South West Women's Football League Eastern Division and moved up to the Premier where they find themselves today facing Somerset's Ilminster Town, or; the Ili Fillies (sorry).
There's not a lot to say about the ground, like many County League venues it's basically just a ringed-off field. The club house is a hulking grey beast with a surprising array of tightly-spaced metal bars making the whole thing look a bit like an old western jail. The shelves inside were absolutely crammed with trophies of every shape and size, which I suppose is a natural consequence of having a million youth teams like Boco do. As I popped in before the game to use the facilities, I was quickly set upon by a bald middle-aged man who, I presume jokingly, questioned me loudly on why I was taking my camera into the toilet. I engaged the tried and tested smile and back away technique and escaped unscathed. I would later overhear that this prince of Northavon had decided that the best way to enjoy this youth game would be to imbibe in four pints before kick-off, a method of soothing the ache of the previous night's revels in legendary Kingswood drinking establishment Chasers, so I suppose we have to let him off.
First contact with the natives survived, I trudged out to the pitch and was surprised to see the beginnings of a youth game taking place on the main pitch and some even younger whippersnappers having a kick-about on the other pitch below. Thinking I'd maybe gotten the wrong day, I dutifully started watching Bitton Youth vs presumably AEK Youth but who knows and saw a Bitton goal within the first 5 minutes. The aforementioned second pitch sits at the bottom of a steep grass verge so I was able to keep making the odd glance over to check the game I thought I'd be watching wasn't taking place down there. Eventually it did start and for a while I kind of stumbled around in a small circle trying to watch both games but that didn't really work so I headed down the hill for the women's kick-off.
Sitting on the grass bank for an elevated view was about as basic as it gets but I was quite enjoying getting back to football in it's most primitive form for the afternoon. I knew that my rival and colleague Daz Knapton would have a few words to say about how I wasn't allowed to count a field in our most-grounds-visited competition but I didn't care. The game kicked off and Ilminster looked threatening often during the opening exchanges but AEK's number 2, a center back, was tenacious in defense and kept her team square with their opponents by stamping out many a threatening attack, occasionally literally. Eventually though the home team were opened up when a Maisie Poole found space in the corner to whip in a cross that met Shannon Crouch so close to the goalmouth there was little hope for the keeper. This was celebrated with what seems to have become a staple in the women's game: an elaborate secret handshake.
As I watched the game I became aware of a man next to me who was periodically recording what sounded like commentary into a phone in what I'd guess was Spanish. It seemed unlikely that a Mediterranean Boco fan group had sent a reporter out to broadcast the game so he would have to remain a mystery. Being able to, as always, hear every verbal exchange on the pitch gave me insight as to how our female amateur players conducted themselves around their teammates. An impassioned cry of "Charlie, I'm over here bitch!" told me that it was pretty similar to the men's game.
The landscape which I'd considered too unremarkable to write about did actually come into play as Boco began using the grass slope to get a better run-up for trow-ins and as I had predicted from the get-go, we were visited by several stray balls from the main pitch. A return was attempted by one of the Ilminster subs but she shanked it so badly that it nearly ended up lamping an old couple sat on a picnic blanket. Later their male manager returned another with a mighty hoof which he seemed pleased with initially but his face turned to a frown before announcing to the small crowd "Oh. Wind took it..." so obviously that went awry as well. You can't get the staff.
|Non-league tire swings|
Boko tested the keeper with a long range free kick on minute 28 which started a much more positive passage of play from them. Things remained quite even for a while but after a sub for Town they find themselves in another one-on-one which was only denied when the AEK keeper managed to drop just at the right time to keep it out with her knees. These Higuitaian antics couldn't prevent Town netting their second in the 4th minute of the second half which at the time looked like it might have been an own goal. A corner came in and the last person I saw touch the ball after a brief tussle was Town's very tall number 7 winger who came on as a sub. It definitely changed direction after that though and Twitter helpfully informs me that "Dee" ended up tucking it away at the back post from a tight angle. Good on her. Turns out having moved to ground level I couldn't really see what was going on anymore. Also the ball kept bouncing out my way and I'd have to ham-fistedly palm it back to one of the players from the touchline or ferret around in the undergrowth for strays. I was so close to the action while doing this I ended-up feeling like someone's over keen parent/coach and had to resist the temptation to bellow "SQUEEEEEZE!" at random intervals.
Boco got their first meaningful chance of the second period from a corner that ended up being hit agonisingly just over the crossbar. To make matters worse, Ilminster immediately mounted an attack from the resultant goal kick and managed to hit the bottom of the crossbar. This seemed to encourage them and Town proceeded to produce a series of very threatening looking breaks and to be honest, as the game reached it's final third, the difference in quality was showing a bit. Town were able to spray the ball around well from midfield and control the resultant crosses with silky headers and chested down touches. They seemed quicker and trickier and by contrast a lot of the body blocking AEK did well at before the first goal just no longer payed dividends as their opponents skipped nimbly past.
However just when all seemed lost, AEK got themselves a free kick in the 80th minute. It was a tempting angle and distance for a right footed player to curl one into the box which the player that stepped-up did. Her direct attempt was saved but a teammate was on hand to tap in the rebound. This caused jubilation among the Boco players and a small but heated argument in the Town ranks. I wondered if that seed of discontent might let Boco back in to the game if they kept at it for the final ten.
Smelling an upset, AEK got everyone up for a corner in the 89th minute but the Town keeper rushed forward and punched the danger clear. Once again Boco found themselves caught out on the break and Crouch converted a one-on-one for her brace. Minutes later Poole notches a fourth from an angle against very little resistance. Ilminster seem so confident at this point that someone tries an overhead kick, which sadly wasn't to be a repeat of the heroics I'd previously seen from Fry Club earlier this year.
It had been quite an entertaining game and considering the cost of entry (bugger all) you may well see some more County League level reports on this here blog. For now though it was time to go home and prepare for yet another midlands double header on the weekend.