Wednesday, 29 November 2017

#68 Thornhill Park, Slimbridge AFC

Slimbridge AFC 1 Yate Town 5 
Wednesday 15th of November 2017, Southern League Division One West

Knowing I would soon be consumed by the ever-demanding festive social calendar, I was Gloucestershire-bound on this chilly Wednesday night for a Southern League clash between the Swans of Slimbridge and the Bluebells of Yate. With just under a third of the season gone, Slimbridge sit in 11th place and Yate in 16th.

As I pulled into the neighbouring business park that the club use as a car park, the familiar smell of organic bovine plant nutrients wafted daintily on the evening breeze. As I approached the entrance I noticed a small steaming lump just by the 'Welcome to Slimbridge AFC' sign. Surely, I thought, there's no way the club's custodians would solicit a local cow equivalent of Paul the Octopus to come and "bless" the ground before kick-off. I was relieved to discover as I drew close that it was actually someone's discarded fag. 

Slimbridge were formed in 1902 and play in the nearby village of Cambridge, after former player and president Evi Thornhill bequeathed land to the club in his will. In 2001-02 Slimbridge made the step up to the Gloucestershire County League and achieved double promotions to the Hellenic Premier. After four successful years in the top division, the last of which they finished as champions, the club suddenly announced they would be resigning from their place in the Southern League before a ball was even kicked, citing commitment issues. The first team took the place of their reserves in the slightly obscure Gloucestershire Northern Senior League (level 12) and rapidly made their way back up to where they had been in just eight seasons.

Yate are the more established Southern League side, this being their 26th season in the competition and their 9th consecutive in Division One after being relegated from the Premier in 2008/09. In 2012/13 they reached the first round of the FA Cup where the lost 3-0 away to Cheltenham Town.

Thornhill Park is quite a sparse little ground which wouldn't look out of place in the Western League, possibly a result of their aforementioned setback. There's a long covered seated stand across one side with four rows of seats and a small section of covered standing behind the goal nearest the clubhouse. That's it. There is, as appears to be a recurring theme in the Southern League, a large porch that extends out from the clubhouse which was quite popular. It doesn't have anything on the Frome Town überporsch though. I also particularly enjoyed Slimbridge's effort in ensuring their ground is enclosed, as is Southern League standard:

"They're football fans, you dolt! They don't plot, they don't scheme, AND THEY ARE NOT ORGANIZED!"
With the Bluebells and the Swans in resplendent yellow and blue shirts respectively (just to be perfectly confusing) the game kicked off. Both teams have opportunities in a very open first period. Yate force a low gather from the home keeper early doors and a Slimbridge defender had to take responsibility of punting away a powerful shot from close range as he blocked his keeper's view. A Slimbridge forward made a sumptuous run that beat many defenders but suffered a hamstring pull just as he got clear and was subbed off.

Yate hammered home the opener on 22 minutes with Ben Brooks receiving the ball in the center of the pitch and proceeding to unleash a rocket into the top right which the Slimbridge goalie couldn't hope to meet, despite his prompt dive. Slimbridge do get a deserved equaliser in a bit of a turd way that wasn't quite representative of their decent efforts in the first half. A Yate defender fumbled the slippery ball between his feet near the goal, causing it to dart off into the path of a delighted Marley Thomas, who found himself in a 1-on-1 with the keeper which he didn't waste.

I retired to the clubhouse with a tea at half-time, which had a very old folks home vibe to it, even more so than usual for a non-league club. Just feast your eyes on that faux leather.

Oh baby.
Slimbridge immediately burst forward as the second half whistle is blown and notch a goal which was disallowed for offside. Hard to comment on whether that was a fair decision or not as I had moved behind the goal but I can confirm the players were furious. They followed this up with a daisy cutter which narrowly missed past the post.

The Swans continue to push hard for the lead but Yate break without warning and Mayson Evans got a shot away. Slimbridge breaths were held as it hit the inside of the post with a ting but it ricocheted kindly for the away team and sunk into the inner side netting.

It was at this point that I noticed that Slimbridge were a vastly shorter side compared to Yate and that this was causing problems for them. A notable example was a lofted cross from the left back up to his striker, which the latter failed to bring under his control prompting the following exchange:

Striker: "Argh! Whip it so I can get hold of it!" 
Left back: "Mate, I'm 100 yards away!"

Hoofing the ball wasn't working for Slimbridge but keeping it on the ground wasn't much better as Yate seemed physically stronger than their opponents to boot.

The home side's woes were compounded by another, more dubious flag offside and another Yate goal, an initial strike clattering off the crossbar and back out into play was easily tapped in by a well-placed Brooks. From this point on it really isn't Slimbridge's night. Their best opportunity of the second half was denied by Yate's keeper as he masterfully pushed the powerful 1-on-1 strike behind his goal. The resulting corner yeilds a shot on target from midfield but it's blocked by a Yate body in the box. Other than this moment they spend much of the second half on the defensive, looking particularly vulnerable when Yate break.  

Despite the protestations from the Yate goalkeeper for his players to hold their areas and see the game out, Yate charge forward and add another goal. Brooks gets his hat-trick through an easy-as-you-like cross from wing to box.

At the time I didn't feel like Slimbridge quite deserved this pummeling but they certainly didn't deserve to win either and a lot of their fans sounded pretty fatalistic about the whole affair since as early as the second Yate goal. Just as I'm mulling this over, Yate make it 5-1, with Steve Davies banging one in from a very sharp angle indeed. They're taking the piss now. This came minutes after Swans are almost taken apart by a mistimed pass-back between their midfield which allowed Yate to break.

Bad times indeed for the Stroud side. Having just conceded 5 against Evesham the Saturday prior they went on to ship 8 (eight) goals against Wimborne Town the weekend following this loss. Lets hope things pick up for them soon.

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