Thursday, 9 November 2017

Keynsham Town v Bath City. Tuesday November 7th 2017

Keynsham Town 0 Bath City 1

There wasn't a space in sight when I arrived at the car park for this Somerset Cup second round clash. This was my first experience of a County cup game and I was surprised by the bumper attendance. I wrongly assumed National League South Bath would field a much weakened team against Western League Div 1 (10th tier) opposition Keynsham. As it turned out both teams fielded pretty much full strength sides and the attendance was way up on Keynsham's average, boosted by plenty of Bath fans who'd made the short journey up the A4.

This was my first visit to Crown Field though I have viewed it from the main road and train line between Bristol and Bath countless times. It's quite impressive for a Western League ground and in the last couple of years a make over has seen a smart 3G artificial pitch installed. The main feature of the ground is the white painted main stand on one side of the pitch which has a nice mix of terracing and seating with changing rooms and club house at it's rear. There's not much else in the way of stands though behind one goal the narrow terrace is raised 5 foot above the pitch affording a good viewing position. A Rugby club is on the other side of the pitch and there are some smart looking training pitches behind the other goal. Keynsham have been main stays of the Western League since the 70's and it is slightly surprising to find out they haven't ventured further up the pyramid in their recent history given the relative opulence of their home.

Despite the four divisions between the two clubs, the home team gave a good account of themselves in the first half and had a couple of chances, including a header from a  long free kick which the Reading loanee in goal saved well. The away team, as expected, were moving the ball about nicely and created the majority of the chances. Shortly after he was booked for descent, Bath's number 11 Compton hit a post from a free kick and was subbed off with what looked alike a hamstring injury shortly after.

The home team competed well and it was 0-0 at the break. Having done a lap of the ground in the first half I settled behind the goal that Bath would be attacking in the second - up on the raised terrace.
The away team began to dominate more after the restart and Keynsham were having to defend resolutely were managing to survive goal mouth scramble after goal mouth scramble. By this time ex Bristol Rovers forward Jamie Lucas had been bought on up front to try and secure the breakthrough for the Romans and avoid a penalty shoot out.

I got chatting to a Bath fan called Geoffrey and a couple of his mates who proved good company. On balance Geoffrey probably just about falls in to the 'happy drunk' category and in his fuggy haze seemed to take comfort in moaning and quipping about how poor his team were and how they were struggling to overcome western league opposition. 

With about 20 minutes to go, Bath eventually took the lead with a near post finish from a corner. This seemed to knock the stuffing out of Geoffrey somewhat and he was noticeably quieter, seeming slightly ill at ease with his team winning. This gave me the opportunity to notice a few more of the mostly Bath fans behind the goal. A few young youths were on the beers and involved in a halfhearted attempt at being twats to the Keynsham keeper. To their credit, I suppose, they couldn't quite pull it off. The home team continued to defend well, limiting the amount of clear cut chances for the away team and occasionally looking to break with intent themselves.

With a few minutes to go Bath resorted to taking the ball to the corners and time wasting, showing respect to the opposition and how seriously they were taking the tie. This show of nerves evidently reassured Geoffrey and he rallied, returning to his chatty self. He pointed out that he was surprised to see right back Welch- Hayes playing. He's been on loan at Oxford City and played the full 90 minutes in their impressive in FA cup win at League 2 Colchester. Presumably he'd been recalled and here he was just 3 days later playing in the second round of the county cup. Fair play to him.

1-0 at the final whistle. The first time I've been really cold at a game this season, a very enjoyable outing none the less and I look forward to seeing the draw for the third round.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Shrewsbury Town v Bristol Rovers. Tuesday 17th October 2017

Shrewsbury 4 Bristol Rovers 0

As I arrived home tired after tonight's game at 1am, I remembered Johnny Vaughn's sage advice that he often trotted out during his time at TalkSport: "Never let the football get in the way of a good day out at the football".

The drive home had been pretty tortuous, with motorway closures and road works compounding what had been a humiliating result. The day had started so promisingly. I'd had the day off work and after an enjoyable morning and early afternoon with the family, I'd then picked up Tom of @Partizanbristle and his friend Briony. After a quick coffee stop at Gloucester services we were back on the M5.  The big decision to make was whether to stay on the motorway until Brimingham or get off at Kiddimister and head up to Shrewsbury cross country: Luckily we opted for the latter which proved to be a shrewd move. Not only did we avoid the car park section of the M5, we were also treated to the beautiful scenery of rural Herefordshire and Shropshire.

Tom admires the Shropshire sunset

As we smugly motored on to Shrewsbury, Briony casually dropped in to conversation that she was on friendly terms with the the Bristol Rovers owner - Wael Alqadi. A few minutes later she revealed that he was on his way to the game and was going to meet us in the car park and sit in the away end! Surely she was having us on / delusional? If he was going, no doubt he would be in an executive box somewhere, sipping champagne with his Shrewsbury counterpart? 
Sure enough when we turned up, there he was waiting for us. No entourage, just on his own with a couple of other fans - what a guy! A bit star struck and dumbfounded, I didn't speak to him much beyond banal pleasantries but he seemed a lovely man. I thought it spoke volumes that he was behind the goal with the fans without a body guard in sight. Still not really believing what was happening the game kicked off amongst a light shower of weetabix. What followed was a very miserable 45 minutes from a Bristol Rovers point of view.

Rovers won the first corner of the game, but this proved to be as good as it got and the beginning of the end. As the corner was cleared, Shrewsbury broke with pace down Rovers left flank and after a simple and effective one-two with Shaun Whalley, Alex Rodman side footed home. Far too easy. Not long later it was 2-0. After some neat build up play, Junior Brown swung in a cross to the far post where big centre forward Carlton Morris easily out jumped Rovers left back Bola and headed home, Slocombe in the Rovers goal should have done better, getting beaten at his near post with the ball squirming under him. We were right behind the Rovers goal and it was painful to watch. I still optimistically harboured hopes of a dramatic come back but these were dashed a couple of minutes later. Further misery was heaped on the travelling fans, who lets not forget, had witnessed a 6-0 victory in their last away game. Jon Nolan converted an easy tap in as the Rovers centre backs went missing allowing Morris to run to the edge of the area and find his team mate who had easily lost his marker. 3-0 down and not half an hour played.

A few fans had already ran down to the advertising boards to hurl 'advice' at the players, meanwhile we were left trying to remember the biggest away defeat we'd witnessed and wondering whether this was going to surpass it. 5 minutes before half time Shrewsbury won a free kick on the right hand side. It was hit deep toward the far post where left the back Brown, seemingly unmarked, scored with what was a great header back across the goal and in off the post. 4-0. Disbelief in the Rovers end and so it seemed in the home end as well. Although they went in tonight's game unbeaten, the Shrews scraped draws in the last couple and until tonight most of their victories had been hard fought close affairs. Their fans were clearly not used to seeing them tearing teams apart as they were tonight with every attack looking like it was going to end in a goal. The fourth proved to be the home time signal for a fair few Rovers fans. Tom took it as a que to head back to the concourse and get us a pie each. Perhaps deliberately, he forget to get forks so made a return journey saving himself from the final minutes of the half.

Half time and it was time to take stock. Briony pointed out that most of the damage had been done down Rovers left flank. Surprising as Arsenal loanee Bola has been impressive at left back to date though it was true he had little in the way of protection. 

With the slaughter on pause it was also an opportunity to look around at the stadium. The Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium is as bland and nondescript as it sounds. Non offensive and comfortable it  lacks much in the way of character. I never went to Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury's old ground, but did see it from a train once and it was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately it was near a river and flooded a lot. They moved to Montgomery Waters 10 years ago. It's on the outskirts of town and you can get an idea of the vibe of the area by the fact that we parked in a garden centre (paying £5 for the privilege). There are plans afoot to convert part of one of the stands to safe standing which will at least give the place something a bit different. 

The second half was altogether less eventful. Shrewsbury continued to look the better side but perhaps took their foot off the gas a little bit. Rovers replaced a striker with a defender and were able to offer slightly more resistance. Ellis Harrison looked a handful upfront for the away team put was largely feeding off scraps and it was clearly not going to be Rovers night. 

Tom remained fairly upbeat for most of the game but looked a broken man when misfiring striker Nicholls was subbed off with 20 minutes to go. In a moment of madness some weeks ago, he vowed not to shave until Nicholls finally breaks his Rovers duck. He's already sporting a bushy specimen and I dread to think how many small children he'll scare if the striker emulates his predecessor Luke James - who went the whole of last season without scoring.

There were genuine cheers in the away end when Liam Sercombe registered Rovers first shot on goal in the 89th minute. Perhaps emboldened by this reaction, Sercombe went on to complete an impressive hat-trick of on target shots in injury time, all of which were comfortably gathered by the young Shrewsbury keeper. 4-0 at the final whistle.

Rovers manager Darrell Clarke felt it necessary to come and apologise to the travelling fans. Needless to say some of the more fickle amongst us had strong words of frustration. To most gasheads though he is a legend who has dragged us up to league one from the depths of the conference.

A miserable result, but liberated by the words of Johnnie Vaughn I was free to cherish some of the positives and small victories of the night. That coffee from Gloucester services, I'd ticked off another ground in the long and stuttering quest to do the 92. Fine company and scenery had been enjoyed on the way up, and its not every day you get to sit with the owner! Even on the football side of things, we'd 'drawn' the second half 0-0 and 'won' the corner count 4-1. All in all I'm definitely claiming this as part of the rich tapestry of joy that is following your team home and away.    

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Frome Town v Hereford. Wednesday 27th September 2017

Frome 0 Hereford 3

There's something deeply unsatisfying about turning up late for a game of football. 
Arrive at half time when it's 3-0 and nothing much happens in the second half - with the score remaining 3-0 - and it's even more unsatisfying. This was to be my fate on this Wednesday night in Frome. Squeezing though the unmanned turnstiles I couldn't help but feel like an intruder. The other spectators around me were seasoned veterans of the first half and seemed to be exchanging knowing looks over their half time cups of tea. Some of them were probably lucky enough to have got to the ground early enough for a pint in the clubhouse. A rare treat for me these days. You can't beat sipping on a beer whilst peering in to old team photos from yesteryear and taking in the smell of the carpet.

As I struggled to orientate myself to the floodlit surroundings, the teams came back out from the changing rooms. At least my mate Ben was at hand to fill me in on the first half. The visitors, Hereford were 3-0 up.

Frome Town FC have been a staple in the Southern League Premier for some years. After Yeovil, Weston Super Mare and Bath City they are the next highest ranked team in Somerset (if my geography is correct). Hereford have featured on these pages a number of times before and now find themselves in the Southern Premier following consecutive promotions. Having gone through the previous two leagues like a hot knife through butter, they arrived tonight sitting in 7th place, evidently finding more challenging opposition at this level.

I've heard some interesting things about the town of Frome. It made headlines a couple of years ago when in local elections independents won all the council seats with the main parties being frozen out. It also has a well renowned monthly sunday market that I've been meaning to go to for years but haven't got round to. Before tonight my only other visit to the town came when I was about 14 for a game of cricket. The things that stick out in my memory is that nearly every player for the Frome team had the surname Dredge including the umpire. The other thing I recall is that during the game some young lads drove through a fence on to the pitch in a battered Escort, did some impressive doughnuts on the outfield and then drove off again. But enough of my childhood cricketing memories, I was here for football and my first impression of the ground was very positive. It could be said that Frome's stadium it is so good they named it three times! The fine people at advise they play at the wonderfully named Badgers Hill. On arriving though signage welcomed me to the Blidmans Brewery Stadium. Ten yards on though another sign told me I was at the Special Effect Stadium! 

Make up your mind lads!

No matter the name, the ground is large for this level with 4 proper stands. The oldest looking stand is behind one of the goals and has the club house bar at is rear. This is a narrow standing terrace and intriguingly there is a road between it and the pitch. Something I don't think I've ever seen elsewhere. Opposite was the newest looking stand, an all seated covered stand with shiny red seats, accessed via steps and perched on a brick wall affording it good views looking down on the action. Behind the dug out side of the pitch was a gentle slope of a terrace with a huge roof. The remaining stand had more covered seating and stretched most the length of the pitch. All in all a decent stadium and one that would not look out of place in the National South should Frome move up a level. There was a good crowd of 500 plus in, as usual Hereford bought a big following, it all seemed very good tempered and the bouncers that had been bought in for the night didn't have much to do.

To the game. I was reliably informed that Garyn Preen scored the first goal courtesy of a howler from the Frome keeper. My mate Ben likened it to Massimo Taibi's famous diver over the ball for Man United all those years ago. John Mills who has been Hereford's main goal scorer for the past two seasons got the second before Keyan Reffell put the visitors 3-0 up just before half time.

There was very little to report in the second half. And what there was I probably missed, turning up so late I felt out of sync and struggled to get in to the swing of things. I was also distracted by bumping in to fellow traveller and blogger Tom of Partizan Bristle. No doubt his report of the game will be altogether more satisfying. More distraction was to be found when Ben noticed that the linesman was a colleague from work. As for what I did notice, it was good to see veteran Ryan Green still playing at the back for Hereford a decade or so since he wore the blue and white of Bristol Rovers. He spent much of the mid 2000's competing with Lewis Haldane for the title of best perma-tan at the Memorial stadium. Now in his late 30's he still looks pretty fit and dapper. Also nice to see that the instantly recognisable Peter Beadle in trademark red cap is still at the helm at Hereford in their quest upwards toward the football league.

I will definitely try and get back to Frome for a full 90 minutes and do the Badgers Hill Blindmans Brewery Special Effect stadium justice. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

OGC Nice v AS Monaco, Saturday September 9th, 2017

4 Nice v Monaco 0

Richie from Bottom (the late Rik Mayall) once said: "If you want to have a good time - Forget it." 

With an hour to go before kick off these words were on my mind as I sat stranded in my car in a suburban Nice carpark. I was dressed in shorts and t-shirt as the rain continued to pour down as it had for much of the afternoon. The chances of the game going ahead seemed slim. I'd already endured a stressful drive trying to navigate the French motorways. On finally arriving at the ground I'd then been told by police that the car park I had found with great difficulty was closed for security reasons. I was waved off from the entrance and before I knew it had accidentally got back on the motorway adding another half an hour of toil. The day was salvaged though when news came through on twitter that the pitch was in good shape despite the down pour. With 45 minutes to go to kick off, the rain subsided and I was able to walk to the ground without getting completely drenched.

Not the weather I was expecting

Regular readers of this blog will know that it's bread and butter is mainly non league games in the South West of England. Being on holiday in the south of France though gave me the opportunity to nourish myself with something more exotic: The Derby de la Cote d'Azur between Nice and nearby principality Monaco.

When looking for a French game to go to this one caught the eye - not only is it a local derby but Nice have had a good couple of years in a new stadium and Monaco are defending French champions and lit up the Champions league last season. Another attraction was the price: 15 euros for a seat directly behind the goal. To put that in to context, I paid roughly the same to watch a pre season friendly at fifth tier outfit Weston Super Mare in July. Weston, like Nice is a seaside town but other similarities don't easily come to mind. 15 euros was a steal.

Until 2013 Nice played at the Stade du Ray which had a capacity of 18,000. They have since moved in to their current home which is much larger at 35,500. The ground has been named the Allianz Riviera in honour of a German insurance company.

As I approached the stadium it looked futuristic with it's glass / perspex shell covering a mountain of more traditional grey concrete below. I did a lap of the ground and bought a beer from a trailer. My French is non existent so when I heard two blokes talking in English I didn't hesitate in imposing myself on them. Like me they were here for the first time. One was a Man U fan whilst his mate was Turkish and a supporter of Bodrum who apparently are rising swiftly up the Turkish lower leagues. As we supped our Kronenbourgs we concurred that their seemed to be more families and women than we were used to seeing at English games. With kick off approaching we parted and headed in to the ground.

As I came in to the main concourse I noticed that unlike in England the concourse had no wall blocking the pitch meaning supporters could still see the pitch whilst queuing for the toilet or getting a drink at the bar. From the inside the stadium was impressive, it had a touch of the Emirates about it with symmetrical rising stands, all three tiered and felt bigger than it's 35,500 capacity. Taking my seat I noticed that a lot of people were openly smoking and drinking pints in the stand. I assume this is permitted but from my experience of France I wouldn't be surprised if not. France seems to have endless restrictive rules and laws that locals get around by simply ignoring them completely.

The ground wasn't quite full which I suppose isn't that surprising considering the new stadium holds double what the Stade du Ray did. There was a good atmosphere though with the Monaco fans crammed in to a corner to my left and standing up and singing throughout. Opposite was the stand holding the Nice Ultra's who were an impressive sight and sound.


I was pleased to see that Balotelli had made the starting line up for Nice. The enigmatic Italian had been injured but evidently didn't want to miss the big game. Falcao was leading the line for the visitors.

Monaco came in to the game having won their first 4 games of the season in defence of their title. They started the match confidently with their attacking wide men especially looking lively. Balotelli seemingly hasn't changed much, the first thing he did before having a touch was give away a foul, kick the ball away and then ignore the ref as he told him off. The lovable rogue didn't get a booking though and a couple of minutes later was fouled himself in the penalty area. Up he stood and converted from the spot to give Nice the lead.

Balotelli waits to take his penalty in front of the impressive ultras

Monaco continued to dominate possession and it was very much against the run of play when Nice doubled their lead with a lightning counter attack. Alassanne Plea raced on to a through ball from the left before shooting passed the keeper who could only get a hand to it.
Nice had JM Seri in the defensive midfield role and he was doing a great job of halting Monaco attacks and forcing them to rely more and more on their wide players. They looked very capable and got themselves in to some lovely positions but couldn't find the final ball that Falcao was hoping for.

Seri then played a beautiful ball through to Alassanne Plea and it looked like another goal was coming, Balotelli though either wasn't fit enough or couldn't be bothered to run and join the attack and Plea had no option but to shoot from a tight angle in to the arms of the keeper.

Half time came and I ventured back in to the concourse. Here I was intrigued to see many of the locals sipping on espresso's whilst discussing the opening 45 minutes. Amongst the stylish family outings I then saw a couple of lads embrace with a kiss on both cheeks greeting outside the gents. The impossible suaveness of it all was almost overwhelming.

Monaco started the second half enthusiastically, evidently feeling they had enough quality to turn the game around. Seri however continued to boss the midfield for Nice and as the game progressed the visitors looked less and less of a threat. They conceded a soft third when Nice right back Souquet was allowed to get in a low cross from the corner flag. He should have been shepherded out and worse still, sloppy marking in the box allowed Balotelli an easy tap in. 3-0.

Monaco had given up now and there was no surprise when they conceded a fourth. Ganago on as substitute found himself baring down on the keeper with one man chasing, he cooly rounded the keeper before side footing past the defender who had got back on the line.

4-0 at the final score.

A memorable day out at the Derby de la Cote d'Azur which I can now add to the Bristol and Sheffield derby's. I found a lot to like about French top flight football. The prices, the family day out feel of the game which didn't detract from the atmosphere and singing, the ultras, beers on the terraces and half time espressos. I look forward to finding a new French ground next time I'm here.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Brislington v Cribbs, Tuesday 22nd August, 2017

Brislington 2 Cribbs 1

Crunching tackles, bizarre hand balls and a dramatic winner. This game had the lot. Played at a frantic pace with emotions often running high, it made the one paced friendlies and touchy feely first few games of the season seem very far away. 

This was my first visit to Brislington's Ironmould Lane. Situated off the A4 between Bristol and Bath, the ground isn't visible until you go a fair way down the lane and past a cricket pitch.

On paying my £6 entry which included a free programme (nice touch) the first thing you notice is how much of the ground is under cover. Ironmould Lane is built with sheltering from the elements in mind. Three sides of the ground are entirely covered terraces. The remaining side has the dug outs as well as the main stand (covered seating) and another covered terrace.

I'd seen Brisligton play last season at Bitton when they'd been 4-0 winners. Back then Niekell Plummer had led the line and scored two goals. Part of the Bristolian footballing and Goggle box family, I was pleased to see Plummer named in the starting line up as that night his power and touch had made him a joy to watch. 

Brislington are long established members of the Western League, having played at this level since the early 90's. Cribbs meanwhile have been on a steep upward trajectory over the past couple of decades and reached the Western Premier league for the first time in their history in 2012.

I often think you can smell a groundhopper a mile off. About the first person I spotted at the game had all the hall marks of a fellow traveller. My instincts proved right and I spent much of the game chewing the fat with Ed of @Westcountryfb fame who's write up can be found here.

From the start it was clear that the teams were pretty evenly matched and the game quickly became an absorbing affair. Cribbs in the blue had a couple of early chances, the best of which fell to the wonderfully named Horace Ormsby, he wriggled  his way in to the box past several defenders but couldn't beat the keeper.

Next came one of the more bizarre passages of play I've had the joy of witnessing at a football match. It started when Cribbs Number 11, Dowdell picked up the ball and went charging down the left wing. Pursued by a defender he slightly over ran the ball and it clearly went over the touch line before he tapped it back in to play and carried on in to the area. Most of the Brislington players were almost stationary calling for a goal kick to be given, there was no whistle forthcoming however and Dowdell almost sheepishly carried on his attack. As he played the ball in to the 6 yard box, A Brislington defender, number 6, had a rush of blood and literally took things in to his own hands by sticking both arms in the air and stopping the ball in its tracks. For a moment time seemed to stand still. His Brislington team mates were in stunned silence whilst the Cribbs players looked equally confused but eventually started halfheartedly appealing for a penalty. The flummoxed ref ran off to consult with the linesman who had also clearly failed to realise the ball out had gone out of play. 

A penalty was awarded and coolly dispatched by number 11 Dowdell himself. "Play to the whistle" were the obvious words echoing round the terraces as the home team were left seething.

Not long after the Brislington number 6 had a chance to make amends. Plummer who had been kept quiet so far chested a ball in to the box right in to his path but he couldn't find the target with just the keeper to beat.

In the second half Cribbs were not sitting back on their lead and it was there two wide men - Dowdell and Horace Mormby who continued to impress. In and around the penalty area however the Brisltiongton centre backs looked solid and were keeping the forwards largely at bay. Cribbs did have one golden chance to make it 2-0 after a brilliant run from Mormby. The young winger again cut in from the right, showing great skill to get past 3 defenders before putting the ball on a plate for the on rushing number 9 - Aldam. He hit a fierce shot but was brilliantly denied by Chris Blammon in goal who pushed it over the bar. What would have been a brilliant goal turned out to be a turning point.

By this time me and Ed had took up a position near the dug outs. Unfortunately for the lino who'd played his part in the penalty incident earlier, he was patrolling the side right in front of the dugouts. Needless to say he was getting all sorts from the Brislington bench and players. After one particular verbal volley, the Cribbs manager attempted to offer some comforting words to the young assistant referee: "No one said it was gunna be easy hey lino!". The tackles were flying in by now and Ed made the good point that it was surprising more yellow cards hadn't been given (3 was the final count).

Brislington equalised with about 15 minutes to go. A long ball wasn't dealt with and as Plummer chased it down he inevitably out muscled his marker. He chipped it over the out rushing keeper before they clattered in to each other as the ball found the back of the net.

The last ten minutes were increasingly physical but there was still time for a moment brilliance from Brislington's Curtis Jack that would prove decisive. As he took the ball down the right wing it looked like the Cribbs defenders had done enough to shepherd him out to what at best looked like a crossing position. He had other ideas though and unleashed a wonder strike. Such was the angle when he hit it, from where we were it looked like it was destined to go out for a throw-in at the other side of the pitch. Instead it rocketed in to the far corner cannoning off the inside of the post giving the keeper no chance. Easily the best goal I've seen so far this season.

Jack disappeared under a jubilant pile-on and there was no time for a Cribbs reply. 2-1 to Brislington at the final whistle.

A fantastic game of football. Absorbing from start to finish, the kind of match that can tire you out just watching it. I'll be seeking out more games involving these two this season hoping for more of the same.

Looking back down Ironmould Lane