Tuesday, 27 March 2018

#75 Stockwood Lane, Bristol Telephones

Bristol Telephones 1 - Roman Glass Saint George 1
Wednesday 14th March 2018, Western League First Division

Well readers, it's mid-March and I've only done three new grounds since the new year. I'm in serious danger of facing charges of phoning it in. Daz and I had decided to formally dial down our groundhopping race for the year as he'd taken up a position as media officer at Stone Dominoes and had less time for it. Let's be fair, he had a pretty sizeable lead over me anyway. To my relief, once the nagging knowledge of needing to do probably two or three grounds a week as well as watching Rovers was quelled, the previously-wavering urge to travel to out-of-the-way Bristol suburbs on cold Tuesday nights returned to me. Apparently it's never left my fellow Gas Groundhopper Chris Power and his mate Aaron who were well up for this one. Another draw was the fact that I'd been curious about this club for a while due to their rapid rise up the Bristol non-league scene and their slightly odd name. So off I went to Stockwood to ring in my 23rd Western League ground.

Bristol Telephones were formed in 1948 as Bristol Post Office Telephones and initially played in the Bristol & Suburban League. I'd spotted their unusual name from time-to-time in the Bristol Post and mentioned it to my Dad one Sunday afternoon. He seemed to think they were a BT works team, being a retired BT engineer himself. After digging around online I came across a Word document entitled 'Bristol Telephones History' which contains the sentence "Playing at Bristol Civil Service Club, they had to leave that pitch when BT was privatised under Maggie Thatcher" which all but confirms this. The vicious Gladstonian onslaught the country faced at the time couldn't stop the plucky club finding continued success at their new Stockwood Lane home which they moved to in 1984. After 65 years of slogging it out in that hallowed amateur competition they made the step up to the Gloucestershire County League in 2013-14. They won the league on their fourth attempt and made the huge step up to the Western League Division One last season.

I did worry slightly when I learned that the Phones would be getting promoted to the Toolstation, with their gates rarely getting beyond the mid-twenties and the fact that they started this season without floodlights. Even when they finally got the latter in they proved to be a tricksy beast, with more than one match getting called off due to malfunction. I feel that level 10 is really the level where you can't be arsing about anymore in English football. While Shirehampton can get away with nothing but a structure that looks like a burnt-out bus shelter and a tea hatch in the Somerset County League, the Western League requires such frivolities as an enclosed boundary, a clubhouse and at least one stretcher. That's not to mention the cost of transport and officials. However my uneducated notion would turn out to be nonsense as the Stockwood sensations currently sit in 17th place, a good 10 points above bottom-placed Warminster Town. However it's worth mentioning that along with East Cornwall's Callington Town, they have the joint-highest number of league games still to play in the country, a staggering 17 (seventeen) fixtures to complete at this late stage.

Roman Glass St. George (from St. George, East Bristol) have the distinction of being the oldest surviving club in Bristol, formed way back in 1872. They have in recent years been forced to relocate to Oaklands Park in Almondsbury due to their traditional Whiteway Road ground not cutting the mustard (their reserves continue to play there however). As former non-league stars themselves (for Chipping Sodbury Town and Winterbourne United), Aaron and Chris were a good reference point for a lot of Bristol football trivia and apparently Whiteway Road has the biggest pitch imaginable; "hell if you're a wing-back and have just come from a day's work". The Glass came into the match second in the table, three points behind leaders Keynsham Town with a game in hand, so tonight was a big chance to put the title into their own hands. 

I arrived to a packed car park and pulled up on the grass behind two players unloading equipment from their boot. I went into the clubhouse, had a can, met Chris and Aaron and had a chuckle at this sign in the toilet adjacent to the changing rooms: 

There's not too much to say about Stockwood Lane, as a recently upgraded County League ground it's pretty basic but it gets the job done. There's a single covered seated stand down one side of the pitch and a very elaborate concrete sub bench/terrace thing which I couldn't work out how to access because the door to the middle bit seemed to be in a hedge. The rest of the ground is neat and tidy with hard standing aplenty, the only slightly tinpot feature being the hastily-erected wall of metal crowd barriers behind the near goal. Forgivable considering the club's relatively rapid rise and at least the see-through side of the ground wasn't right next to a public footpath like Longwell Green, so no chance of a skinflint local stopping to watch for free.   

Out on the pitch the first thing we noticed was lanky bearded full-back Jake Cox turning out for Roman Glass. I thought he may have left Manor Farm on the sly but it turns out he's on a duel-registration. My companions were full of praise for this Bristol non-league stalwart who seemed to be playing in more of a wingback position for the Western League side. Bristol Telephones opened the scoring in the first half but unfortunately we didn't see it because we were in the middle of looking for shelter from rain. You're welcome. Roman Glass generally struggled to get back into the game after this surprise setback, their main offering resulting in a goal line scramble and eventual clearance. Don't ask me how the Phones kept it out though because it looked like an Andy Capp fight cloud from where I was standing.

By the 5th minute of the 2nd half Bristol Telephones were sitting what I'd describe as San Marino National Team deep in defense, apparently content to try and frustrate the league leaders for 40 minutes rather than see the game off with a second goal. This didn't make for good watching. Assisting the players from the sidelines were a gaggle of hooded yoofs giving the officials the absolute dog's abuse for every decision that went against the home side. Their zeal suggested to me that they were unused members of the team rather than Bristol Telephones ultras, mainly due to the fact that they were standing beside one of the coaching staff but also that I couldn't imagine a Bristol Telephones ultras group existing. What would they be called for a start? Hands-free Hardmen? Buzz Brigade? Sector #? 

Despite these antics it was Roman Glass who were making their own lives difficult by spurning chance after chance. Too many to recall without making the blog too long but one that stuck out came from a decent cross from Cox that three red shirts in and around the box failed to get a leg to. That's no way to treat a Toolstation Campeón! Towards the end things got more fraught and physical, culminating in one beautiful moment where after contesting for a header a Phones player became squashed by his victorious adversary on his way back down, uttering a squeaky, plaintive cry of "Ref!" as he crumpled to the bottom of the dog-pile. No foul though. We thought Roman Glass had sussed it when a forward got on the end of a probing through ball and into a one-on-one situation but unfortunately he was undone by a high bounce from the bobbly pitch.  

Eventually the visitors did get the goal they needed to spare their blushes as Jake Cox (who else?) smashed a blistering cross from the left across the edge of the box for one of his strikers who managed to get his head to it, score the goal and probably get some friction burns to the forehead for his trouble. I celebrate a little too hard and can feel the daggers in the eyes of Forza Fiber Optics in my back. Luckily for me Roman Glass immediately go back to being turd, managing to fire a corner into the side netting and spooning it wide from the box after playing the advantage from a penalty shout right at the death.

Ultimately a draw was a fair result but Roman Glass would probably be the ones going home annoyed with themselves, whereas the Phones could be happy with a cheekily-acquired point against a high-flying team thanks to defensive tenacity, an early goal and a little luck. I was pleased to finally satisfy my curiosity about Bristol Telephones and be able to say I've been to a riveting Bristol Weirdly Named Club derby.    

Sunday, 4 March 2018

#74 The Field - Almondsbury

Almondsbury Ladies 6 - Oldland Abbotonians Ladies 0
Sunday 25th February 2018, South West Women's Football League Eastern Division

The Field. The Field. Have you ever heard such a meek name for a football ground? I've been to plenty of venues that were basically just fields but even they tarted themselves up to some degree with a fancy name. King George Recreation Ground, Penpole Lane, the Scatman John Memorial Hyper Glade (okay that last one was made up) but anything is more exciting than "The Field". In any case The Field is another ground that I've long been curious about as I often see it as I pass by on my way somewhere else. In a similar way to The Creek which you get a superb view of whenever you travel into town on the Severn Beach Line, you can see tantalising glimpses of the ground as you travel north on the M5 past Almondsbury. Although I was trying to have a bit of a break from groundhopping, I'd had such a lovely day at Rovers the day before doing the Gasheads Against Food Poverty collection with John and Jade that I decided to squeeze in another game.

Almondsbury started life in 1969 as Patchway North End, playing just down the road in the town of Patchway. In 1971 despite having only existed for 2 years and being relatively young boys at this point, the club decided to change it's name to Patchway Old Boys. The move to Almondsbury happened in 1989 whereupon they took their current name and one year into the new millennium they joined the Gloucestershire County League after finishing as champions of the Bristol & Suburban League. In 2009, a few years after gaining promotion to the Western League, the club went into partnership with the University of Western England and became Almondsbury UWE. This meant that the club suddenly had a pool of potential student players to choose from but the initiative didn't bring much success, the club have pretty much been mid-table since. Last season however they finished 22nd out of 22 but avoided relegation, the partnership with UWE was ended in the summer and a fifth re-branding returned them to life as Almondsbury FC. Since the untimely demise of Almondsbury Town, Almondsbury are the only game in town in the South Gloucestershire village and rather cheekily go by the former club's nickname The Almonds. The Field is just across the road from Oakland Park, Town's former home and current site of Gloucestershire FA HQ. Information on the ladies team online is scant but they were in the league below (Gloucestershire County Womens Football League Division One) last season and finished as runners-up in the League Cup. 

I turned up to the game about 20 minutes late because the entrance isn't the easiest to spot and missing it leads to an unfortunate and time-consuming diversion down the Almondsbury interchange. The football pitch is a fair walk away from the clubhouse (which is shared with a myriad of local sports clubs including Almondsbury Cricket Club) and by the time I got to the pitch the home team were already winning 1-0. It was an absolutely bitter afternoon and the fierce wind was causing a wind turbine on the touchline spin off it's hinges. This combined with the motorway running past the far goal makes The Field quite a noisy ground I must say. I guess it could be quite serene on a warm, still day with little traffic but today it served as a reminder of how built up the outskirts of Almondsbury is these days. The only two structures of a markedly basic ground are a funny little L-shaped covered seated stand which contains about 35 seats and room for wheelchair users below. There's also a tiny four step metal terrace with a roof, the kind of temporary-looking thing you see at a lot of grounds at this level. You do get a sense of seclusion despite the hum of the motorway due to the fact that the whole ground is on a raised grass bank that's accessed by stairs by the changing rooms below.

Once I'd established the score from a friendly local, I moved into the terrace in an attempt to stave off the chill. Not a lot happened during the rest of the first half but one glorious moment was the ample referee unfortunately finding himself in the way of a clearance and receiving the hurtling sphere square in the arse. As half-time was blown, I retired to the clubhouse for a pint in the warm. An elderly gentleman who was sat watching the Premier League game was joined by a young lad of about 5. The only bit of their conversation I overheard was "No you go out, it's too cold for Grampy today." I've got to admit I was with Grampy on this one and although I could see the game had restarted from the window, I took my time finishing.

I'd missed all the action of the first half but lucky for me (and this ailing blog) the second was a veritable goal bonanza. First off the tall Almondsbury number 10 who'd looked threatening for a while made it 2-0 when she latched onto a stray ball and moved into a 1-on-1 with the keeper who she slotted past from an angle. Not two minutes later this player had added her second as she lofted a cross into the box into the roof of Oldland's net. 4-0 comes as a player lobs the Oldland defence, including the onrushing keeper who is beaten back to the goal by a forward but even without her tap-in the ball was going to roll across the line for sure. The fifth comes from a fairly unforced Oldland defensive error, it's not been a good half for them. Just as I'm trying to control my shivering hand enough to note this down in my phone, Almondsbury score a sixth which I completely miss. Fucking hell girls, stop, they're already dead.

Despite this dominant display, the win only put the Almonds up to 4th in the table and the current leaders Wootton Bassett Town Ladies have played 13 and won 13. A promotion would see them duking it out with South Glos rivals AEK Boco Ladies and Downend Flyers, they have games in hand against the top three and clearly they have terrifying ability on their day. Good luck to them.