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.