For my sins, I’m a bit of an ‘eventist’. I’m one of those irritating fellows who knows where he was whenever a major news event has occurred. Churchill, Kennedy, various Popes, Thatcher’s downfall (hurrah!), I remember ’em all. Not to mention disasters, such as the Twin Towers (sat in my office in Nottingham), the Bradford fire (spectating at another ground), Hillsborough (unfortunately spectating at that ground), and the Hungerford Massacre (delivering beer about ten miles away). So it follows that my football travels often take me to towns and cities where I can check out the local landmarks, macabre though they may be.
When I saw Hungerford Town had won promotion to the Southern League, I immediately got googling to find out whereabouts the ground was, and perhaps a little more about the town. Type in Hungerford and number two on the list is Hungerford Town FC. Above it – at number one – is the Hungerford Massacre. It’s 22 years since, but the name is seemingly forever synonymous with events that took place in the streets around the ground.
I’m in the West Country with business partner Simon. We visit one of our customers in Melksham then head for nearby Devizes, home of the Wadworth’s Brewery. Shamefully, we’re not looking for one of their pubs, but the local Wetherspoons so I can grab a five-bean chilli for next to nothing. I doff my cap to Waddies by ordering a pint of 6X by way of penance. Simon’s driving and we make the 45-minute hike to Hungerford with just a hint of rain in the air. The streets around the ground are fairly tight and compact, as is the club’s car park so we leave the motor outside, ready for a sharp getaway. Several layers of clothes are in order and for the first time since my trip to Scotland in February, the ski gloves are deployed.
Town’s ground is one of many at this level built on a slope, albeit reasonably gentle. Straddling the half way line on opposite sides are two small but fairly upright stands, one with seats and one without. A couple of kit stands are deployed elsewhere in the ground, and there’s a simple covered terrace behind one goal. Behind the other is a sizeable clubhouse, the layout of which is obviously designed to cater for functions. There’s a large flat-screen TV showing live sports, but sadly nothing interesting in terms of beer on the bar. I mention to the bar-chap that I always look in the fridge to see if any local beers are on sale, but he appears to be one of those guys who thinks Guinness is a local beer cus it’s brewed in the UK, and is disinterested in my observation. Guinness it is then.
Kick-off time nears and we make our way outside via the snack bar. It’s the usual burger and hot dog fare so it looks like I’m going to be on the chip butties again, despite my recent health food kick. The threatened rain begins to fall so we head for the cover behind the goal and wait for the feast of football that we are sure visitors Windsor & Eton – second in the table – will bring to the party. At half time we’re still waiting, having witnessed the usual frenetic 110mph stuff over-bossed by a fussy referee, whilst both goalies can afford to take a nap.
Hungerford themselves are having a reasonable season with eight wins from thirteen games. They’ve certainly not given anything away in the opening 45, but all that is about to change. Effective half-time substitutions are made and the stalemate is broken early in the second when a hitherto rare Windsor & Eton break results in the opening goal. It serves to raise the tempo and Town come close to dragging it back before a defensive error gives the visitors a second. They’re cruising now and the third is merely confirmation of the away win. The eight-strong traveling fan contingent can journey back to London with a smile on their faces.
And so that was Hungerford. A name still synonymous with dark events in Britain’s history, but presented to us in 2009 as a sleepy Berkshire town with a splendid line in illuminated town centre Christmas tree decorations. And a football team with a bit to do before it can persuade Google that it is the primary thing that the town should be known for.
Programme: On sale at the turnstile. I can’t tell you how much it costs because it doesn’t say on the cover. It’s crammed with website stuff, although we did enjoy the quiz.
Floodlight Pylons: Eight, including a smattering of mobile phone masts
Parakeets: Not a dickie bird
Club Shop: Nothing evident
Toilets: In the clubhouse
Music: All quiet on the western Berkshire front
Players with the quirkiest names: Shaun ‘The Don’ Wimble and Steve ‘I’m a PC’ Dell