Tuesday 12th July, Pre-season friendly
Here we are again in July. It's the height of summer, everyone is sweaty, England have bumbled out of another tournament and our attention is once again turned to the zany, inconsequential fun of the pre-season. Rovers have at this point won their opening two pre-season matches at Mangotsfield and Salisbury and were finally going to a ground I hadn't ticked off yet. Twerton Park holds a special place in the hearts of many Gasheads, as Rovers spent a decade groundsharing with Bath when a rent hike forced them from their spiritual home of Eastville Stadium.
Bath City gave me what I still consider to be my lowest moment as a Rovers supporter in our conference season, when they beat us 2-0 at the Memorial Stadium in the FA Trophy. Forcing that to the back of my mind for the day, I was excited to experience an important piece of Rovers history first-hand and get back to regular live football.
Bath (or "The Romans") currently play their football in the National Legaue South, where they finished up 14th last season. They have spent their entire 127-year history as a non-league side but have had many forays into the Conference National, the most recent being two seasons from 2010 to 2012.
I headed for Twerton right after work and parked up nearby with about 15 minutes to spare. It struck me as I was driving to the ground that it must have been a logistical nightmare hosting division two games there. The roads are small and the rows of parked cars essentially turn them into single tracks, even with the relatively modest 1127 strong crowd. There also aren't that many approaches, which would've caused endless fun for the authorities and residents alike.
As I was stood in the queue I got a tap on the shoulder from my old school pal Ellie who was there with her boyfriend Joe. This was weird to me as I knew Ellie doesn't like football but it turns out Joe picked up the habit of following Bath since becoming a local councillor. Always nice to have company, especially as this would turn out to be a pretty dull game.
Twerton Park is pretty much exactly what I imagined it would be. A rickety, crumbling wonder that didn't look like it could have changed much since Rovers started squatting in 1986. It's a very hotchpotch stadium where no side matches up with any other. The main stand, or main stands to be precise, are separate from one another and consist of the large main stand and the smaller family stand. The main stand looks like it's been there for a bloody long time. The covered portion on top is all seated but there is a small slither of uncovered terracing below. The much smaller family stand looks like a more modern construction; it's florescent blue seats and orange pillars creating quite a clash with the greenish-grey corrugated iron of the main stand. Despite being called the family stand, I'm told it's given to away fans these days.
Opposite the main and family stands is a massive covered terrace that stretches the entire length of the pitch. A standout feature of this part of the ground is the fact that the terrace bows quite noticeably in the middle. Whether this is an oversight in the building process or a natural result of a well-loved 107 year old stadium I don't know but I'd like to think it was the latter.
The rest of the ground is uncovered terracing, a very shallow section on the end nearest the main entrance and a much larger, steeper section on the opposite end known as the 'Bristol End'. Studying old footage of Rovers at Twerton Park, the right side of this end was given over to away fans. One feature that I've not seen at any other grounds is the curved terracing in each corner, which makes the stadium into a kind of bowl until it meets the seated stands. Bristol Rovers' current stadium has a slight curve on it's north terrace but it's not as pronounced as the one here. It's a very nice traditional feature.
Whilst I was enjoying taking this all in, a none too thrilling game was unfolding before me. The only things I remember from the first half was Will Puddy making some decent blocks but struggling to gather and distribute sensibly which nearly cost us and Ellis Harrison skying a shot just before the half. Also Tom Lockyer went off injured after 33 minutes in what I pray was a precautionary measure. My excuse for not really paying attention was the fact that news had filtered through from Joe's mates that Jeremy Corbyn had won his battle to be automatically included on the upcoming leadership election ballot, so I was busy drinking delicious Blairite tears over on twitter.
When half-time arrived Rovers made 8 (eight) changes to the side, retaining only Will Puddy, James Clarke and Alfie Kilgour (who came on part way through the first half) from the first 45 minutes. Added to the mix was a conspicuously unnamed youngster who appeared on the team sheet as 'Trialist'. I've looked into this since the match and apparently Darrell Clarke wants this lad's name kept out of the public domain for the time being for whatever reason. Trialist put in a decent shift and sent a couple of probing balls forward for the visiting forwards. He would eventually prove instrumental in breaking the deadlock, providing the corner that James Clarke would head in for his second ever senior goal (after scoring his first at Mangotsfield the week before) in the 69th minute (hurrr).
A very drab game meant that Joe would probably have a hard time dragging Ellie back to Twerton Park any time soon but I was happy to have crossed another local ground off the list and seen the old place for myself. Scrappy though it was, Rovers had won all three of their opening pre-season games which can only be seen as a positive. I'd definitely tip the Romans to be challenging in the National League South this season as they were tenacious in defence, cutting out a lot of passes between our seasoned pros, as well as looking quite dangerous in attack on a number of occasions. I'll be watching them with great interest.