Over the years, i have been to quite a lot of the organised groundhops taking place in different league’s throughout the country and whilst in my own opinion there are pro’s and con’s to these organised events, it is still a great way to take in a few grounds in one part of the country often quite far away from your home base without masses of repeat travelling and the associated costs etc. And the Western League hop over the last couple of years has led us to numerous great grounds and games.
Friday, saw us journey down the M4, to the first game at the home of Brislington FC, who were entertaining Odd Down (Bath) whose ground we visited on last season’s hop. The ground was excellent for Step 5 (if only every ground at this level had so much cover from the elements!). A neat main stand on one side, cover on all 4 sides of the ground and a club that had clearly prepared very well. Lots of volunteers and helpers, a great selection of food pre-match at excellent prices (mine was the jacket potato and beans if you are interested!). Tea / Coffee and even free biscuits, everything had been thought out well, the bar was busy and hopefully the club made a few quid on the night.
The game itself was excellent, with the away side taking an early lead through George Lloyd and from there on the game ebbed and flowed with Brislington turning things around to take a 2-1 advantage in the second half, before two further late goals both from Lloyd completed an excellent hat trick and gave Odd Down a 3-2 win. Young, 17 year old keeper Aaron Sainsbury on work experience from Bristol City also had an excellent game for the visitors. A crowd of 262 were more than happy with their evening’s entertainment and the weekend had got off to a good start.
Saturday, unfortunately saw us wake up to steady rain, never great at the start of a long day with numerous games and being full of cold already it didn’t bode well. However the opening game of the morning at Longwell Green Sports was excellent in the First Division of the Western League. Pre-game table toppers Welton Rovers were the visitors and they were given a real run for their money by the home side, who despite the steady rain gave a really committed performance and held a 2-1 lead into the second half, the second Longwell Green goal was a proper old school centre-half header from Courtney Charles, unstoppable power from a corner, one of those goals you don’t see enough of anymore! However the visitors began to dominate in the second half and in the end took the 3 points, with a 3-2 victory, thanks to 2 fine headers themselves in the second half from centre forward Aaron Seviour. Despite the rain, an excellent game and advert for the league, just a shame we didn’t have a ground with 4 sides of cover like the previous evening, always the way though weather wise on hops! A well organised club again, with a few bar areas and lounges which provided welcome respite from the rain at half time, along with the bacon rolls and tea.
We then rolled on to nearer the coast for the Clevedon Town versus Buckland Athletic, Premier League clash, although Clevedon’s ground is a long way out of the town itself in a rural location, which sadly can’t help them attract locals at times. Again though an excellent set up from the club, plenty of parking, programmes for sale behind the turnstiles and as the wind began to get up, the joy of a long elevated covered terrace running down the entire length of the far side of the ground protecting us from the elements, which attracted a sizable proportion of the 213 crowd. The hard working blokes in the tea bar were kept busy pre-game with the 2.15pm kick off bringing lots of appetites in the crowd it appeared. Burgers, Chips, Hot Dogs and more seemed to be doing a roaring trade, followed by a fabulous selection of home made cakes in the club shop. Don’t go on a groundhop, if you are following a strict diet or are easily tempted!
On the field, Clevedon made all the early running and took a deserved lead through Alex Camm and as a neutral you expected them to go on and take the game by the scruff of the neck, however it didn’t happen as Buckland (who had travelled from Devon) found a way back into the game and got a foothold when they equalised shortly before half time. The second half had seen a stronger wind pick up blowing down the pitch and the visitors took full advantage as they began to take control. Sub Ryan Bush pushed them 2-1 in front with a fine finish and then they sealed the points with an excellent strike (albeit i think aided by a deflection) from James Richards to make it 3-1. Another good game and a third away win of the weekend!
Back towards Bristol itself and a fixture at the well appointed Moorhouse Lane home of Hallen FC, as they took on another of last season’s hop hosts Shepton Mallet in a 5pm fixture. The game if i am honest took a while to get going, as both evenly matched sides seemed to cancel each other out for much of a first half which held the attention rather than captivated it. Although the fact that the combination of a heavy cold and the early morning rain and dampness seemed to have rendered me frozen internally might have slightly hindered my enthusiasm which was a shame! Shepton Mallet took the lead late in the first half through Ashley Willmott after the ball spent an eternity pin-balling around the Hallen goalmouth. The teams remained fairly evenly balanced but the second goal for Shepton Mallet was decisive, with Pollard’s shot taking a deflection to loop into the top corner. After that Hallen had an up hill struggle and never seemed to fully believe themselves that they were going to get back into things and the visitors sealed an excellent 3 points, after a testing start to the season results wise, with a third goal from Morgan.
Hallen were another very well organised club, with the chicken curry, rice and naan looking popular at £3 and a host of volunteers running the BBQ, merch stall and the very well stocked (and warm – thank god!) tea bar.
So, the games we planned to do were done and we will no doubt return to this part of the world for a trip to those we haven’t done yet later this season, Boxing Day always seems to produce opportunities for a double in the Western League, so hopefully Cribbs, Bristol Telephones and Bridgwater Town will see us visit later in the season.
I will openly admit, i find 4 game days on Groundhops hard work these days, especially on damp days and with a long journey the following day to the Liverpool (my turn with the season ticket ) v Man City game via coach / train.
All in all though, an excellent four games, well organised clubs, hard working committee members and volunteers, great food (it makes a change on groundhops not just to have the ubiquitous non league burger on the menu!) and some great football on the pitch. The Western League from my visits over the years seems a very well organised league, good clubs, varied and interesting grounds across it’s 2 divisions and i hope it is not too long until I get chance to visit the area again. Well done to all involved pulling this together.