I’ve noticed that the back page of Groundtastic magazine usually features a photograph of a footy ground in a particularly scenic environment. Would that all grounds were like that, hey?
To be honest, I’m probably not so sure. Dark and dismal the streets around Leicester’s old Filbert Street home and Derby’s Baseball Slum may have been, but they were characterful grounds nonetheless, and there were plenty of others like those.
With the current trend being to move clubs out of town whenever a new stadium is put on order, it seems the immediate vicinity is invariably populated by retail and business parks or some other former industrial wasteland, yet to be re-assigned to purposeful use.
And then you get those grounds, very often in the lower leagues, where they’ve sprung up in the most unlikely of locations. Just over four years ago I stopped off for a night game at the Eynsham Hall Park home of Southern League outfit North Leigh. Literally set in a country park a good walking distance from the village centre, my evening’s entertainment was enjoyed to a backdrop of a flock of sheep steadily munching their way across an adjacent moonlit field, cheered on by owls hooting in the overhanging branches of trees – surreal!
Tonight my target is another one of those grounds where – unless you’ve had cause to go there before as I have – you’d give up trying to find it, so unlikely the location. I suppose the Gloucestershire town of Nailsworth has ‘form’ for this, home as it is to Conference success story Forest Green Rovers, that most ‘vegetarian’ of stadia with its real ale welcome for lucky visitors. Yet just across the valley, another club is making progress up the football pyramid, albeit three divisions behind the Rovers.
I had cause to visit the Meadowbank home of Shortwood United about a year ago, whilst undertaking an assignment for a local brewery. Sadly, there was no match taking place that night, but it did give me the opportunity of following the narrow windy road for about a mile gradually uphill until the ground was there before me.
Twelve months on I am in the neighbourhood working for the same brewery, but this time visiting Meadowbank on a social basis, and I now know how to find it!
I’m well early, so settle into the clubhouse with a J20, a copy of the programme, and a weighty tome about Dunkirk to wile away the 90 minutes until kick-off. The small but comfortable clubhouse does in fact sport two handpumps, one of which is dispensing Moles excellent Rucking Mole, a 4.5 ‘proper’ premium bitter with not a hint of citrus. Sadly, my need to drive two hours home in the dark after the match precludes me from sampling it.
Near the turnstile the snack bar is doing a roaring trade, but the only thing on the menu for veggies is the ubiquitous chip – not tonight, thanks.
The playing surface at Meadowbank looks like it has been cut out of a slope, as the backdrop to the main stand is a grass bank atop of which are fields and trees alive with gangs of kids and dogwalkers – ah, that country air. A peacock is calling from somewhere within the trees, which makes a change from owls – or parakeets even!
Opposite the modest, purpose-built main stand is a small 50-seat kit stand, sheltered from the breeze, where I deposit myself to enjoy the action.
Curiously enough, given my intro to this editorial piece, tonight’s visitors are the afore-mentioned North Leigh. Both sides are mid-table, with no chance of making the play-offs, so I’m not expecting a feast of football, which is just as well as the ball is in the air for much of the first half, and when it does fall to earth, a bone-hard pitch speeds it on its way into touch. It’s 30 minutes before either keeper is troubled.
Shortly after the break the visitors – marginally the more positive force in the first half – pick up the initiative and take the lead with a fierce cross-shot. Fifteen minutes later a deflection makes it 2-0 and it seems the end of the matter. Enter Shortwood super-sub Jody Bevan, not at first glance the most athletic of players, but a greying, spreading veteran with a surprising turn of pace and no little presence in the six-yard box. His powerful charge and header on 85 – which the keeper clearly doesn’t fancy – makes it 1-2 and we are set for a finale. Sadly for the home side, too little too late and the visitors take the spoils.
And I wind my way back down that narrow country lane, squeezing past parked cars on a route no fire engine would dare to tread, and wonder why you never ever heard a peacock calling at Filbert Street or the Baseball slum – funny that…!
Programme: On the turnstile – included in the entrance fee of £8. Lots of adverts but quite readable and informative nonetheless. Cover a bit naff!
Parakeets: No just that peacock I mentioned earlier
Club Shop: Didn’t see one.
Toilets: in the clubhouse, which is surprisingly busy during the game. On investigation I discover a skittles match taking place!
Music the players run out to: Just that peacock
Kop choir: A bunch of locals behind the goal and standing on a raised terrace utter occasional words of encouragement.
Away fans: a bunch near me
What’s in a name? Shortwood fans are concerned at the man-marking skills of Kevin Slack. But there’s no else to do it, as James Cant. Presumably the gap in North Leigh’s defence has now been plugged by Stuart Hole.