Weston Super Mare 0 Bristol Rovers 3
Football is back. So begins another long season. And pre season. As much as I've enjoyed a little break over the summer watching a bit of tennis and cricket on t.v., I couldn't wait to get back out on the terraces and embark on another 9 months or so of football.
The first Gone for a Burton trip of 2017/18 found me heading to Weston Super Mare for their pre season friendly against Bristol Rovers. Before the game the heavens had opened for the first time in weeks, remembering my wasted journey to Cinderford last year, I made sure I checked on Twitter before setting off, no news was good news; the game was on.
I was hoping get to Weston in plenty of time for a look around before kick off. My 3 year old son had other ideas though, his bed time rebellion ensured that by the time I left home I had little chance of making the start of the match, let alone enough time for an ice cream on the pier or a donkey ride on the beach. As it happened I arrived a few minutes in to the game. After paying my £12 entry (a bit eye brow raising for a pre season friendly) I was reliably informed the game remained goalless.
Rovers had bought a strong first team squad along with the handful of trialists that often go hand in hand with pre season games. For Weston I noticed that Goggle Box regular Tristan Plummer was on the bench. I'd seen him last season playing for Hereford and he is now back at Weston for what is his fourth spell at the club. Of the Rovers trialists, one with a notable back story was young Tom Broadbent at centre back, tall and well built, from what I understand he is still serving in the army and is presumably hoping to swap his military fatigues for a full time contract.
On entering the ground I took a position behind the goal Weston were attacking. The first thing I heard was a young Rovers fan moaning to his mates about how steep the fine was for being caught urinating in public by the police. The beautiful game: I doubt you get to be in earshot of gold like this at Lords or Wimbledon often.
Having glanced over the teams it was time to re-orientate myself with the Woodspring stadium, a ground I had visited once before, a couple a years ago on a filthy winters night when Weston had beat Oxford City in an 8 goal thriller. The ground was opened in 2004 and sits on the edge of town on a main road. It reminds me a bit of Walsall's ground in that it has a stand behind the goal which towers over the rest of the ground. This is a large covered terrace that wouldn't look out of place at a league one or two ground. Behind the opposite goal is a small standing area with a bit of covering. One side of the pitch has quite a big club house with a covered stand in front that stretches about half the length of the touch line and is 4 rows deep. The opposite side is empty apart from the dug outs and the 8 foot wall that wraps round the grounds perimeter. All in all a decent ground with plenty of trees nearby making a nice backdrop.
A quirky feature of the big terrace behind the goal is that a few narrow rows of red seats have been plonked at its front. I presume this was very much an after thought to meet national league regulations around required number of seats. Tonight, despite a large crowd of 720, they nearly all remained empty.
I got chatting to a Weston fan who pointed out how nice the pitch was looking, indeed it was very green considering all the recent dry weather. He also pointed out that Weston's on loan midfielder from Cardiff looked to be "carrying a bit of timber for a full time pro". As we mulled this over Rovers took the lead. Some neat work from Billy Bodin, who I am delighted hasn't been snapped up by a championship club over the summer, created a chance for flame haired Northern Irishman, Rory Gaffney to sidefoot in past Purnell in the Weston goal. Bodin himself had a good looking shot saved shortly after and it remained 1-0 at the break.
The smell of onions coming from the snack bar was delightful, I'd had my tea though so instead went to the adjoining club shop and bought a lovely Weston mug. I lingered in this corner of the ground as the game restarted. I soon moved on though as a group of kids started entertaining themselves by throwing chips at each other.
A flurry of substitutions came from both teams. Weston are under the new management of former player Marc McGregor who clearly wants his team to play a patient passing game. Even in tight situations they were passing it out from the back and avoiding hitting the ball long where ever possible. Their best spell in the game came early in the second half and culminated in a fierce shot from their number 7 which beat Adam Smith in the Rovers goal but came back off the bar.
Weston continued to look well organised, Plummer, on at the break proved a handful in midfield though they didn't create many chances. Rovers bought on two youth players in midfield who I'd be very surprised if they were any older than 16. They more than held their own though and one was involved in some lovely build up play that led to the final goal of the night, a deft back heel flick from wide man Ryan Broom from a Harrison cross. All in all, a very enjoyable first game of the season. Here's to 2017/18 and all the thrills and spills to come.