Thurs 23rd April 2015, Gloucestershire FA Challenge Trophy final.
You know what they say, support your local team.
Shirehampton FC's Penpole Lane, a pretty leafy glade that they share with Twyford House cricket club, is a mere 0.4 mile walk from my flat, which trumps Bristol Manor Farm (1.5 miles) and Avonmouth (0.8 miles) to be my "local team". I managed to bump into their ground by accident one afternoon while walking and caught the first half of their match against Watchet Town. Shire had an incredible 14/15 season, eventually running away with the Somerset County League title by 11 points as well as making it to the final of the league cup and the trophy in question. Bristol Manor Farm on the other hand looked certain to miss out on promotion to the Southern League at this point and were playing for a consolation prize.
|Fairly certain neither of these teams are Shire or BMF|
For this match I had to make my way to the Wembley of Gloucestershire, Oaklands park in the village of Almondsbury (birthplace of Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos don'tcha know). The ground used to be the home of doomed Hellenic league team Almondsbury Town but was purchased by Gloucestershire FA in 1993 when they ran into financial trouble. It was then leased back to the club before they left entirely in 2010. The ground is tucked behind a large rozzer HQ just off the Almondsbury interchange and I wasn't sure as I walked past the queue of cars whether I was going into a football ground or a line-up. Soon enough however I copped a man holding programmes and paid him a token sum. It was way busier than I was expecting and many people simply walked past this lone money collector into the ground as I fumbled for my wallet.
Where all the people came from for this match I have no idea. There were easily four times more than I'd seen at the Shirehampton and Manor Farm home games I'd been to combined. This was evidently a night not to be missed on the Almondsbury village callender and the atmosphere was relaxed and merry, a combination of the spring sunshine and the £2.50 cans of Thatchers being hawked from a stationary caravan.
|All mod cons mind.|
During my customary wander around I noticed that the pitch was one of these newfangled 3G dealies. What was particularly amazing was that they'd even replaced the grass mounds behind the goal with artificial grass. I took this opportunity to park my arse and have a feel what it's like; pretty strange, kind of wispy and dry feeling but close to the real thing. The kids rolling down it didn't seem to mind anyway.
|Commitment to a theme.|
Just before kick-off I took my spot between the tiny covered terrace and the much larger seated stand and spotted a lot of faces I recognised from my trip to the Creek.
Onto the action on the pitch and a tip of the hat to a man who is fast becoming one of my favourite footballers currently playing in Bristol, Pete Sheppard. The scrappy pocket-sized attacking mid was a constant hassler of the Shire defence and has given a spirited display both times I've seen him in action, even as his own fans sang heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go at him.
The irrepressible hilarity of the "farmy army" was again in full display at this match, typified by the cluster of blokes behind me who cheered uproariously, as if celebrating a real goal, when the ball careened into the training goal on the side of the pitch. I also heard one of the most insane things I've ever heard shouted at a referee during the first half in: "OI REF. DID YOU LEAVE YOUR ARSEHOLE IN THE CHANGING ROOM OR SUMIT? GAHD!"
I may have been biased seeing as I came here hoping Shirehampton could cause an upset but even though I hold a great deal of affection for Bristol Manor Farm, it did feel that they were taking the piss when on a couple of occasions they bundled over a Shire player then called for a handball when he fell onto the ball. They did a lot more pushing and shoving of Shire than I felt was probably necessary as they seemed in control and were two up by around minute 75.
Shire held their own admirably for the first half and it was easy to see why they cruised the Somerset League. It just wasn't happening for them in front of goal however; their best attempt stopped by a fantastic goal-line save from Pete Sheppard's head. Other than that they seemed to believe that a goal wouldn't count unless it was passed in and around the box by at least five players, giving BMF ample time to smoother any half-chance that came Shire's way.
|It all proves a bit too much for this chap.|
The last ten minutes involved much falling over and a heated exchange of ideas between a Shire defender and the BMF supporters I was stood near. However once the second the final whistle was blown the pitch was immediately full of kids playing imaginary cup finals between themselves and the trophy was presented to the deserving Bristol Manor Farm without pomp, delay or ill-feeling. How it should be. The winning team hastily slipped into red t-shirts bearing the text "Ben 9" in a lovely tribute to ex-Farm player Ben Hiscox, who sadly lost his life in an in-game accident while playing for Stoke Gifford FC.
Having had no idea what to expect at Oaklands Park (it's so out of the way that I had no idea of it's existence, despite going to school nearby for 7 years) but it was surprisingly plush and welcoming, for an artificial pitch and this was a nice evening out. Felt a little disappointed for Shire but Farm deserved it on the night and definitely deserved something to show for their season.