In my line of business I frequently travel from pub to pub. Not bad work if you can get it, you may think. The reality is that for a variety of reasons – I need to keep a clear head, I’m driving, I don’t have a bottomless wallet etc – I rarely get to have a drink in any of them. Well, maybe a coffee. Today I’m carrying that experience over to football grounds.
On the second day of my two-day jaunt to the South West of England, my schedule dictates that I must call at three pubs, a cricket club and two football stadiums, both in the Step 5 Hellenic League. They were actually playing the previous evening – sadly I chose to go to Bath City – but today I have the grounds all to myself as I turn up to take some pictures and thank the blokes with the keys for letting me in. Some day I will return to see a game at Shortwood United – a real pig of a ground to find – and Fairford Town, but they cannot be ‘ticks’ just yet.
As my day winds to a close I call in at a Newbury Wetherspoons for some nosh and then brave the rush-hour traffic to arrive at the Waterside Park home of Southern League South & West outfit Thatcham Town in good time for the Wednesday evening league game against Gosport Borough. Just that little bit too far across the river and the railway line from the town centre, you can see why crowds at Thatcham are relatively small. There’s just 74 here for the first game of the season, following an earnest by ultimately fruitless play-off campaign at the back end of the last one. I check out the bar which has one of those weird new dispense founts for Greene King IPA, but there’s none on. In the fridge are bottles of IPA and OSH. You can see who supplies the bar here, despite an advert for the West Berkshire Brewery in the programme.
Apart from a bike shed behind and to the side of one goal, the only spectator accommodation is a reasonably sized main stand, blighted by being low down and partly obstructed by two floodlight pylons. The snack bar has chips. A tannoy announcer sounds like he is at death’s door as he reads out the teams in a monotonous drone which ends with him asking us to ‘enjoy the game’ at which point he appears to nod off.
Sadly, enjoy the game we don’t, as I experience another 90 minutes of tedious error-strewn football where the first half standout moments consist of two home substitutions, the first of which on 10 minutes appears to involve no obvious injury, and the second on 35 resulting in calls for an ambulance as the home number 7 tumbles over and damages his shoulder. The ‘blood-box’ duly arrives crewed by two lady medics who take him on board, and he emerges 20 minutes later seemingly on the mend. They clearly have the magic touch!
Meanwhile, back on the pitch, the game gets a little stretched and we actually get a modicum of goalmouth action at both ends, but there simply isn’t enough creative skill on show to break down some stubborn defending and the game predictably ends with no score. And to think I could have been at home with my feet up. I get these ‘what the hell am I doing here’ moments quite frequently during a season. This one has come a little earlier than most.
Programme: £1 on the turnstile. Minimal content
Parakeets: A few low-flying Canada Geese, as befits the Waterside Park name
Pylons: 8 – a 9th is a dummy
Toilets: a block near the snack bar
Club Shop: There’s a shabby hut marked club shop just outside the ground over the fence. Looking long disused, I decide not to peer through the window save I encounter the long-rotted remains of some long-lost club scarf vendor
Teams run out to: the monotone drone of the tannoy announcer…
What’s in a name: Thatcham’s Tom ‘I don’t believe it’ Melledew. I bet he’s heard that a few times.