Thursday, 13 July 2017

Weston Super Mare v Bristol Rovers. Tuesday 11th July 2017

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.

Rovers trialist Michael Kelly at left back looked pretty decent and put in the cross for Rovers second goal - A clever header from Ellis Harrison who diverted a ball that looked to be going behind him over Purnell and in to the net. With a Matty Taylor size whole in the Rovers front line, and no striker signed in the close season so far, it was nice to see both Gaffney and Harrison on the score sheet.

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.


Friday, 14 April 2017

Bitton v Brislington. Tuesday 11th April 2017

Bitton 0 Brislington 4
With spring well and truly sprung, it was nice to arrive for a mid week game with the ground still bathed in sunlight. Tonight we journeyed to the outskirts of Bristol, to the Recreation Ground, home of AFC Bitton who were taking on local rivals Brislington in the Western League. Brislington started the night in mid table comfort whilst the hosts were placed precariously just above the relegation zone.

With my occasional side kick Bryan in tow, we parked up on the main road and walked through Bitton Cricket Club which adjoins the football ground. On paying £6 entry at the turnstile, we entered between changing rooms and the tea hut to our right and a small covered terrace area to our left beyond witch the pitch sloped off down the hill slightly. The rest of the ground was fairly open with the main stand being a nice covered wooden seated affiar straddling the half way line on the opposite side of the pitch alongside the dug outs. It was a beautiful evening and there were plenty of trees adding to the picturesque feel of things, runners and cyclists could also be seen on the raised Bath to Bristol cycle path which passes the ground behind the goal on a disused railway line.

After we'd rescued our friend Ben from outside the turnstile who'd conveniently turned up without any cash, it was time for kick off.
Brislington took an early lead when a ball in from the left was bought down nicely and drilled in from close range. At this point we were up the other end so appols for not being able to name check the scorer! The pitch was a bit bobbly and it took a while for both teams to relax in to the game. The first half was pretty evenly matched and Bitton were unlcuky not to get an equaliser. Their number 11, Paddy Royal looked decent and had a shot saved from a tight angle before he managed to find the back of the net only to be ruled off side. Their number 10, Tooze then hit the post and from the rebound hit another shot just wide with the keeper stranded.

Both teams had some decent players but the man who emerged as the stand out figure in the first half was the ref. He wasn't making particularly outrageous decisions but the running commentary he was giving of the game made him hard to ignore. A stock line was "I'm looking in, I'm looking in" which he barked out in a slightly nasally voice as a corner came in to the box or when two players chased after the same ball. At one point he ticked off a Brislington player for swearing at him but then refused to answer when the player asked him what he was supposed to have said. The Brislington captain, Jason Hughes got involved, a seasoned campaigner who was calling the shots at centre back: "Tell me what he said ref so I can manage it". Un-phased the man in black carried on over seeing proceedings in a calm manner and filling anyone who would listen on what was going on.
Brislington's big number 9, Neikell Plummer, part of the footballing and Goggle box Plummer family, was proving a handful for the Bitton defence but they largely kept him at bay and it remained 1-0 at the break.
Along with much of the crowd we filtered out past the turnstile at half time and in to the club house bar that was shared with the Cricket Ground. In a great example of a community multi functional space, the Bar also apparently doubles up as Bitton Pre School. I often think Football league clubs could learn from further down the pyramid from getting use out of their facilities for the wider community. Perhaps this is the kind of arrangement that inspired Bristol Rovers to try and build a stadium on a University Campus.
The home team, desperate for the points looked to get back in to the game in the second half. For a while looked threatening as they pulled number 11, Royal back in to midfield and looked to him and their play maker, Tooze to make things happen. The wind was well and truly taken out of their sales however when Brislington went 2-0 up. Their captain was marshalling the defence well and their two wingers, number 11 and 7 were causing problems down the flanks. Big Plummer was also coming more in to the game. His strength and ball control were a cut above and in addition, for a bloke who is clearly carrying a pound or two, his pace and ability to keep running all night were as impressive as they were eye-brow raising. The second goal came when he powered his way in to the box before winning a penalty. The guilty defender who felled him was sent off as the last man and Plummer converted the spot kick himself. Soon after he had his second goal of the night when a deflection from his rocket of a free kick left the Bitton keeper no chance.
For the second half a noisy set of Brislington fans had positioned themselves in the main stand and were getting behind their team. Especially their left back who they encouraged to "Bend him up" when the Bitton right back approached. One crunching tackle from their number 3 was met with a delighted "Yes - That's what YOU DO" 
By this time the Bitton players heads had started to understandably drop and Brislington added a fourth after a deft touch from their number 7 guided a long ball from the left in to the net. The ref was continuing to chirp away quite happily and had to get his cards out again when a Bitton player over ran a ball going forward and desperately lunged in to a defender with his feet high. He was sent off but that didn't stop a 20 man skuffle flaring up. Not to be rushed, the ref called his linesman in, eventually calmed things down and then took an age deciding to book a player from each team, entirely at random as far as the two teams were concerned.
The second half seemed to go on for ever. Although it was a 7.30 kick off, play continued well passed 9.30 much to the frustration of the Bitton lads. The ref seemed to be enjoying every moment of his evening and I couldn't help but warm to him. In many ways he was the classic ref: a bit short, bit of a belly, a stickler for the rules and inexplicably enthusiastic. Eventually he blew up and followed the teams in alongside his assistants, who like him had big smiles on their faces as they left the pitch. 



Friday, 24 March 2017

Paulton Rovers v Barnstaple Town. Tuesday 21st March, 2017

Paulton 4 Barnstaple 3

We may be well in to March, but at Winterfield Road, home of Paulton Rovers, there were few signs of spring on this wild Tuesday night.

A lunch time pitch inspection had given the game the thumbs up, but as the rain lashed down as we drove south in to Somerset, Bryan and myself feared the worst.

Arriving at the ground just after 7.30, we were relieved to see our pal Ben outside the turnstiles who confirmed the games was on.

With both teams in lower mid table and probably safe from relegation, this had the look of a potential dead rubber and I worried we might witness a bit of a drab affair. As it turned out though, we would be treated to a seven goal thriller played at a high tempo, with plenty of full blooded tackles and a controversial winner to boot.
The game was a couple of minutes old as we came through the turnstiles and face to the face with the pitch. The entrance in to the ground is a lovely one. Having paid your money, you immediately find yourself at the top of a steep terrace in front of a goal. As the front row of the terrace is raised a couple of feet above the pitch, it means you are looking down at the action from a good height. The terrace was a fair size for this level (step 4) and covered with a metal roof painted in the club colour of maroon.
Paulton attack the raised terrace
Just as we entered, the home team had a penalty shout turned down in the goal mouth right in front of us with the ref seemingly of the opinion that there had been a dive in the box.
This was my first visit to watch Paulton Rovers and I was impressed with the set up. To our left as we came in was a big club house complete with two function rooms and a number of pool tables and a full size snooker table. On the same side of the pitch as the club house was two seated stands, one was a lovely looking raised stand, perched on top of some changing rooms. On the opposite side was a long and narrow terrace with brick benches built in to it, with a smart looking metal roof matching the one on the stand behind the goal. The only end to let the ground down a bit was behind the other goal, where there didn't seem to be anything other than a shiny metal fence.
Today's opposition, Barnstaple Town, had made the long trip up from North Devon. Under the management duo of Barry Yeo and Karl Baggaley, they are enjoying the most successful period in their history having enjoyed back to back promotions in the last two seasons, now finding themselves playing at their highest ever level. Paulton meanwhile were playing in the Southern Premier league until recently and reached the first round of the FA Cup in 2009/10. They generally have an impressive predigree for a team from a villiage, which although growing, still has a population of only about 5000.

It was the home team that made the early running, number 7, Sol Wheatley, was proving a threat down the right and managed to charge down the wing a number of times, sending in crosses that either just alluded the man in the box or didn't get the finish they deserved. 
Against the run of play though, Barnstaple scored with a well taken goal from striker, Kyle Paine.
Both teams were definitely up for it with a few tasty tackles flying in and it wasn't long before Paulton drew level from a corner from a header. Shortly after they were 2-1 up after Elliot Gibbons converted a cross.
By this time the rain had started coming down hard again and we sought refuge in the raised seated stand. Not only was the view great from up there, the wind sheilds on the sides and the generous protruding roof provided lots of shelter from the elements and it felt like we were watching the game from a cosy attic.
The rain continued to pour down at the break but lightened just in time for the restart. Almost straight away, Paulton extended their lead when Sol Wheately embarked on a run, starting not far in to the opposition half, he managed to power his way past numerous defenders, shrugging off challenges before he found him self in front of Oliver in the Barnstaple goal and easily able to fire past him.
Right about this time we walked round the pitch and took up a position in the terrace containing the dug outs (always a good place to watch from). Paulton's number one, the experienced Tony Ricketts, seemed pretty calm, though his side were 3-1 up. The Barnstaple bench was much more animated. Barry Yeo remained out of his seat issuing instructions as his team sought to get back in to the game. I was impressed with his approach, he was full of praise for his players and refrained from balling them out when they made a mistake, offering them encouragement and commending their effort instead. To their credit, Barnstaple started to come back in to it and were managing to enjoy more and more possession in the Paulton half.

They made it 3-2 when Ryan Turner headed home after a free kick from the left. Not long after they got a deserved equaliser when striker James Blake converted a cross from open play. From having been 3-1 down, Barnstaple were now looking for a winner and came very close from another free kick which led to Jenkins have his effort come back off a post.

The games most controversial moment came shortly after. Paulton had relieved a bit of pressure and won a free kick not far outside the Barnstaple box. A right foot effort came in on goal and was batted away at the near post by Oliver. From the resultant scramble, a shot came in from a tight angle from Radford which was seemingly cleared off the line. A second or so later however, the ref realised the linesman was signalling that the ball had crossed the line and awarded a goal. The Paulton players, none of whom I noticed celebrate or protest before that point, looked bemused and a bit embarrassed. After a couple of seconds they collectively decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and ran back in to their own half to leave the Barnstaple players, whose bemusement had fast turned in to rage, confront the ref and linesman.

Yeo and lino in happier times. Before the 'ghost goal'
The goal rocked the away team. As much as Yeo implored them not to let the seeming injustice put them off, they looked less of a threat against a Paulton side reinvigorated by retaking the lead. There was still 20 minutes or so to go and whist Yeo continued to show unconditional positive regard for his players, it's safe to say the lino who gave the goal copped an earful. Unfortunately for him, the touchline he was patrolling was right infront of the dug outs which were themselves very tight to the pitch so he was regularly within spittle distance of the Barnstaple bench. He took the vow of silence approach. Probably the right thing to do. He seemed an old wily thick skinned campaigner but i was left pondering, not for the first time this season, who on earth would be a ref or linesman?
Barnstaple bench and players in shock.

Paulton managed to hold on for the victory, repelling the increasingly direct Barnstaple attacks and managing to get the ball in to the corners and keep it there. On the final whistle it was heartening to see the ref stick up for his mate, the three officials huddled together in the middle of the pitch and the ref politely and repeatedly implored the Barnstaple management to "go away" as they came over to vent their frustration. 

Another very enjoyable game in the Southern League Div One South and West. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Bristol City v Huddersfield. Friday 17th March 2017

Bristol City 4 Huddersfield Town 0

We're a nosy species generally, us humans. So when my mate Dathan said he was coming to Bristol to watch his beloved Huddersfield Town at Ashton Gate, I jumped at the chance to cross the river and have close look at the neighbours recent home improvements.

Meeting up with fellow Bristolian Paul in city centre, we enjoyed a few beers on King Street before walking south and popping in to the Tobacco Factory for a break from the rain. Home and away fans were mixing happily. A friendly city fan came up to us and offered Dathan, who was wearing his Marcus Stewert era Huddersfield shirt, his hand: "Welcome to the land of 3 points". It seemed most City fans were resigning themselves for another defeat, after a promising start to the season they were now in the relegation zone. Having recently sacked their assistant manager, many felt the crows were circling for current boss, Lee Johnson. With automatic promotion chasing Huddersfield in town, managed by (the other) charismatic cap wearing German, David Wagner, few were expecting a change in fortunes tonight for the home team.

Just outside the ground we stopped off at a Clark's pie van and bought a meat pie each for £1.70. I can confidently say it was the best pie I've had this season. Please, please good people of Clark's, can you get a van on the Gloucester road for alternate Saturdays? 

I was last in the away end at Ashton gate in 2007 for the first leg of the JPT area final against Rovers. In the intervening decade, a lot has changed. After a proposed move to Ashton Vale hit the buffers, City supremo, Steve Lansdown set about transforming the existing stadium in to an arena fit for the Premier league. The centre piece of his plan is the giant two tiered stand that bears his name and opened this season. It holds an impressive 11,000 seats and now dominates the south Bristol sky line.

The Lansdown Stand

Opposite the Lansdown stand is the classic looking Dolman stand, built in the 70's it's a smart two tiered stand with plenty of character, afforded a recent face lift it has also been extended to meet the new South stand with the corner filled in. That left the Ateyo stand behind the goal where we were with the large contingent who had come down from West Yorkshire. 

Not long after the game started, it stopped again. An innocuous looking collision with a team mate, left Town midfielder Jonathon Hogg on the floor. Worryingly, he wasn't moving much and a 15 minute stoppage followed as he was carefully stretchered off with what turned out to be a fractured neck.

Soon after the restart, Lee Tomlin capitalised on a mix up in the Town back line and raced clear to round the keeper and slot home to give City the lead. 
Huddersfield looked to get back in to it and you could see they were a confident team, not afraid to knock it about patiently at the back starting with the keeper. They had a decent effort from a free kick that went just over the bar, but deep in to injury time the home team scored again through Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham. David Cotterill played a low ball in from the right, Abraham met it at the near post and gave the keeper no chance, his 22nd goal of the season.

After what had been a long half, it was time for a cup of tea. Arriving at the hatch I smugly noticed that pies were over twice the price inside the ground, the snack bar had the last laugh though as I forked out £7.50 for three teas, "Be careful - the lids don't really fit" said the lady serving as I trudged back in to the stand. 

Not only did our hot beverages have crap lids, I'd wipped the tea bags out far too quick for my Yorkshire friend, "Life's too short for weak tea" he said with plenty of conviction.

Taking stock of my surroundings it was hard not to be impressed by Ashton Gate. It now has the feel of a modern stadium but retains it's history and much of its character. Sitting in the traditional setting amongst tightly packed terraces it feels far more homely than an out of town new build ever could. "Aspirational" was the verdict on the giant Lansdown stand. The upper tier was completely empty except for a media contingent huddled up at the front. With a big catchment area, If City do make the promised land of the Premier league, I'm sure it will be close to full every week. 

As the second half progressed it was evident the home team and fans were very nervy about holding on to their lead with plenty of time wasting going on. Huddersfield continued to dominate possession but it was clear it was not going to be their night when City centre back, Aden Flint, scored with a lovely back heel flick to make it 3-0 with ten minutes to go. A few minutes later, it was 4-0 as David Cotterill converted a penalty. City have lost a lot of games from winning positions this season and even in the 90th minute when 4-0 up they were engaging in the type of time wasting you usually only see when a team are holding on to a 1-0. There was to be no comeback however and both sets of fans were left surprised and scratching their heads at the final whistle. It was nice to see the Huddersfield players come over and exchange applause with the away end. After all, this was a blip in what's been an incredible season that could still end in automatic promotion.

Due to family commitments I was unable to join Paul and Dathan at the Mem the next day, when they ticked off both of Bristol's two league grounds in less than 24 hours.