Wednesday 25th April 2018, Bristol Premier Combination Premier Division
When I lived in Shirehampton there were four local football teams that I was aware of: Bristol Manor Farm, Avonmouth and of course Shirehampton but there was also one other little-known side in the form of Sea Mills Park. I had intended to visit them all while still a resident but despite several kind invitations from Sea Mills over Twitter, I somehow never got round to it. As chances for more football were getting fewer as we crept up to the end of April and armed with the knowledge that a visit to a most likely spartan sub-County League ground is best enjoyed in the warm weather, I stuck this meaningless end of season mid-table clash in my diary and swore blind I wouldn’t pass up yet another chance to complete the Portway Big Four.
While Bristol Manor Farm play their football mere minutes from Sea Mills train station, Sea Mills Park are based in the nearby suburb of Kingsweston, just to keep you on your toes. They play in the Bristol Premier Combination, a companion league to the Bristol & Suburban League that sits at levels 12 to 13 of the English league system. Info on the Millers online is somewhat sparse but I can tell you the finest hour of their 93 year existence was winning the Premier Combination in 2003/04 and spending three seasons in the Gloucestershire County League before withdrawing in 2007/08. Shaftesbury Crusade formed in the late fifties and are a bit of an enigma to me because their website hasn’t been updated since 2009 and the only place I can find in Bristol called Shaftesbury is Shaftesbury Avenue in Montpelier. However ‘The Shaz’, as they are apparently known, play their football down the road in Horfield at the Civil Service Club. As previously mentioned, this was a dead rubber game where fourth-placed Crusade can’t catch up to leaders Olveston United and sixth-placed Sea Mills are nowhere near - so nothing but a nice easy day out for me and a chance to relax and check out the facilities before another big weekend with Daz up in Stoke.
KS&SS is on Napier Miles Road, nestled between some very fancy looking old manor houses and the B4057. Apart from the road it’s a very quiet wooded enclave compared to the relative hustle and bustle of the Lawrence Weston estate. I saw lots of people had parked up on the roads outside but decided to chance my way into the car park, a choice that saw me battling my long-suffering Peugeot 107 up a small gravel hill and into what could only liberally be described as a parking spot. Nevermind though, I was finally in. The ground is as basic as they come, containing only two weather-beaten stone dugouts and white railing along three sides of the pitch (I guess cricket is played here too). In the distance past the unrailed side you can see another football pitch but with hard standing in short supply, I wasn’t about to conspicuously squelch my way round on the wet grass for a closer look. There’s a big enough area of concrete to stand on by the clubhouse, with a couple of round bench tables dotted about. It’s actually a bit more protected than your average ground at this level because the roof of the clubhouse overhangs the standing area and could provide shelter for your huddled masses in a pinch. Most of the patrons chose to watch the game through the clubhouse windows when it got a bit cold though, an option I would have appreciated several times during my groundhopping career so far.
The game kicked off and I could tell straight away that it was going to have everything you'd want from a match at this level. Park’s veteran big bald goalie prowled his area, bellowing ‘KEEPURRRRS’ before clearing a ball with a wallop that would cause Idris Elba himself to instinctively cup his bollocks. Today’s ref was wearing a pair of Eric Morecambe specs and looks like he might work as a resistant materials teacher during the day. An eyebrow-raising moment early on saw a Sea Mills player throwing the ball back to the side and asking for “one of ours” instead, as if it would make a difference on the daisy covered pitch. The Millers dink in their first goal of the evening five minutes in from a cross, before immediately asking for the ball to be swapped again.
Despite this early strike, the home side were constantly under pressure during the first half and it took a not quite goal line clearance from Sea Mills’ ginger number 3 to prevent a Shaftesbury shot on an open goal levelling the standings. At this point I realised I’d seen a number of these Sea Mills players before, of course there was the livid keeper but also the bouffanted right-back, Frankie who I’d seen score a consolation goal against Henbury nearly three years ago in the Evelyn Rowley Cup. I also eventually realised I was watching another local character in the form of King Aggi, who was playing up front for the Shaz. Aggi is notable for being possibly the only man in history to rap about suburban league football via his minor internet hit Everyting Red, although he’s now turning out for Shaftesbury rather than Lebeqs. Clearly a man who loves his football.
Number 10 for the Shaz equalised after his teammate nicked the ball off a ponderous defender and dribbled it past the Millers goalkeeper who'd committed himself to the floor way too early. He was characteristically stoic about the whole thing. A King Aggi-fronted attack saw the forward tear down the wing and try to put it wide of the keeper who managed to palm it away. Shaftesbury didn’t react quick enough to take advantage of this rebound. Aggi notched his side’s second goal close to half time and seemed to be the focus of most of the Shaz’s build up play alongside his partner wearing the number 9, who would often hold the ball up well and generously lay it off for his fellow forward. One thing I noticed during the first half is that apparently technical areas mean very little in the Bristol Premier Combination. As I was stood level with the 18-yard box I noticed that the home manager had strolled up and stood in front of me to watch a corner, turning away and walking back to the bench in resignation as it went astray.
I popped into the clubhouse for halftime which is a compact but comfortable and modern bar with a pool table and your standard assortment of framed bygone squad shirts. I ordered a pint of Fosters which ran out halfway through being pulled. Lucky for me the Santa Claus-looking barman said I could have that one for free so I ended up with a pint and a half for 2.50. I had designs to take advantage of the warm for as long a possible considering I didn’t have far to walk but apparently half time in the Bristol Premier Combination is about five minutes so by the time I’d sat down I heard the whistle go. I suppose I could’ve watched from the window like everyone else but that felt like cheating somehow.
The Millers dinged the post with a headed effort from a corner very early on in a second half which saw a marked improvement from the home side. They put in a cross from midfield which drifted kindly into the box for a stray forward to wander onto and gently nod into the corner. It did look a little offside and the Shaftesbury goalkeeper wasn’t having any of it. It stood though and the spoils were even for the last 20 minutes. Eventually the Millers make it 3-2 from another headed corner. The fans go wild:
The home side spend the last ten minutes or so ahead but under pressure. Another goal wouldn't go amiss. Fortunately for them, Shaftesbury gradually go from probing to crotchety and spend much of the final period arguing with the referee before a player goes down injured, which all but takes the bite out of the game as the physio trots on with his magical healing bucket and sponge. A fitting end to a glorious evening of Bristolian amateur footy.