For four years now I have been making the short walk across the Avon* from our flat to Twerton Park to watch Bath City. A life-long Watford fan, I used to think there was pretty much no point to football unless 10 of the men were wearing yellow shirts. But as explained previously, I was young, stupid, uneducated and single. I am now only stupid, so I have re-acquired the urge to spend most of my Saturday afternoons watching the football.

Bath City was an easy choice – I can see the floodlights from my front room and it didn’t feel like cheating on Watford as they were 4 (now 3) divisions apart, and unlikely to ever play each other**.

Bath City is a fantastic, friendly club. Attendances are around 600-1000, and the passionate home support create enough atmosphere for it to feel a lot closer to Championship football than Sunday park football. Twerton Park is a proper old football ground with an interesting history since it was shared by Bristol Rovers from 1986-1996.

After four years of going to Twerton Park, I’m definitely a Bath City fan. But not quite in crazy fan territory of following Bath all over the country, not yet anyway. Especially as I do enough travelling just to get to work, but I have done a few Bath away games. But my passion for the beautiful game is back; I’m watching Match of the Day again, and have even found myself occasionally putting up with Stan Collymore’s incoherent ramblings in order to listen a Sunday lunchtime game while making a roast. I wonder if the over-paid clowns of the Premier League appreciate the effort that Jim Rollo et al., have put in that have led to me to actually take a passing interest in their (lack of) competition?

Anyway, I have been distracted. I suspect I can still spew a rant about the state of the top of the game, but I’ll save that for another day. Today is about the bottom of the footballing pyramid and how bloody wonderful it is.

Inspired by a handful of bloggers and twitterers, particularly the FA Cup ground hopping of fellow horn putajumperon, 6 weeks ago I decided to broaden my non-league horizons:

Saturday 15th October 2011 –  Western League Division 1

Keynsham Town 0 Cadbury Heath 2.  Attendance 125.

My first hop. A last minute decision, after checking Keynsham were at home, was also an easy choice as I know where the ground is. My train passes by it every day on my way to work.  Keynsham is a small town around half-way between Bath & Bristol. It is perhaps most famous for being home to the Somerdale Cadbury’s factory which has given it’s name to the suburb of Bristol which it overshadows. So this is a local derby. In fact there are quite a lot of local derbies in this league; although the Western League covers the area from Wiltshire all the way down to Cornwall, the majority of teams – in Division One at least – are in Somerset, Wiltshire & Bristol.

In fact one of the wonderful quirks of non-league football is that the South West Pennisular League covering Cornwall & Devon, which is a Feeder to the Western League, has Step 6 status (add 4 to get the level of the FL pyramid), which is equivalent to the Western League Division One, so it feeds into the Western Premier League. Another quirk is that none of the winners of the Pennisular League have taken up a place in the Western League since it’s formation, due to the extra costs involved in travelling up to Bristol and Wiltshire. And Wales, since Merthyr Town are the lowest ranked of the 5 Welsh clubs who play in the English Football League.

Anyway, back to Keynsham, and despite it being mid-October, the programme informs me that this was only their 2nd home game of the season due to ground redevelopments.  The ticket office still isn’t finished. But the pitch is finished, and it’s a first for me – it’s artificial. The continual flooding of Crown Field by the nearby Avon has led to the Western League sanctioning the installation of a modern artificial pitch. One of those ones which gives a puff of tiny black rubber balls everytime the ball bounces (see the video below).

Some research tells me this is the fifth FIFA-grade artificial pitch to be introduced in UK outside of schools and training grounds.  The others being at Northern League sides Woodley Sports and Sutton Coldfield (both Step 4), Ludlow Town of the Shropshire County Premier League (Step 9) and The New Saints of the Welsh Premier League.  Interestingly, although these pitches are sanctioned by their respective leagues, and by the FA for Vase and Trophy matches, they are not sanctioned for FA Cup matches, which will have to be played elsewhere in the event of home draws. But the FA do sanction highest level women’s matches on artificial pitches, indeed this is one reason for Keynsham’s investment given they also have a Southern Premier League womens side which appears to be the main focus of this club rather than their senior mens side. Fair enough given that they compete with well resourced clubs such as QPR, West Ham, Brighton and Spurs.

Crown Fields has just the one stand built along the length of one side of the pitch with the clubhouse behind it. Although the outside looks newish, it’s obviously been built around an older clubhouse so the inside has seen better days. And there’s hardly anyone here. I get a pint, try and make conversation with the few locals inside, but they’re not very friendly. Wandering around the clubhouse I spot the empty trophy cabinet previously spotted by the adventures in tinpot blog.

I’m also intrigued by a newspaper cutting on the wall a picture of the Chelsea & Keynsham teams following a friendly here in 1989, a match to celebrate the building of floodlights at Crown Fields. This match is also Keynsham’s record attendance, with 3000 people attending. As I walk back out to watch the match I can’t imagine where they all stood, given the solitary stand is just three steps deep.  I hope those at the back brought milk crates if they wanted a good view of Kerry Dixon.

The match against Cadbury Heath was almost entirely forgettable. Both sides seemed to spend the first half getting used to the pitch. At one point I was convinced most players had rubber boots as well as a rubber pitch. The only other revelation of the 1st half is that most of the crowd were Cadbury Heath supporters, making the empty club house more understandable.  I spent most the 2nd half chatting to the FA referee assessor, who gave me the low-down on the pitch (he’s not a fan).  In the 2nd half Heath were by far the better side and took a deserved lead in the 70th minute when Keynsham failed to clear their lines. They sealed the win 5 minutes later when a Heath striker was clumsily brought down in the edge of the box, the ref seemed to miss it entirely and the experienced linesman (former league ref according to the assessor) made the call and insisted the Keynsham defender was sent off. Mark Reynolds slotted home the penalty for his 2nd of the game and the majority of the 125 crowd, went home happy. I went home slightly perturbed by the unfriendly atmosphere of the club, but keen to try some more non-league grounds.

 

*Factoid: Avon was old British for River. So the Romans upon coming to Britain asked the locals what they called the River. “Avon” said the local red-bearded Celt. And thus, there are at least half a dozen River Avons in the UK, if not more.

** My Dad, who grew up a Spurs fan, also thought this when he went to watch Watford for the first time in 1976 and we all know the amazing journey he had following Watford for the subsequent 10 years.

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