There’s a distinct probability that, during my many previous posts on this blog, I’ve alluded to a penchant for pursuing a childhood passion of collecting intangible things. Mainly ‘numbers’ to be honest, invariably ‘spotted’ on cars, buses, trains, planes and boats. Ok maybe not boats, but definitely everything else in between.
As I’ve gone through the ensuing decades, done the things folks do when raising a family and trying to build up a successful business, the collecting thing took a bit of a back seat, save for an occasional flurry of additions to my 1977 punk singles archive. I quickly realised that the things that interested me and my father had no appeal whatsoever to my own offspring, who are kids of the age, and so consider computer gaming and social networking infinitely more important than a day out on a steam railway (shock horror). So now they are very nearly driving, and able to rustle up a quick pizza without supervision, I’m happy to leave the wife to her horses and return to my first love. Colłecting intangible things, that is. When people ask me what I do in my spare time, I just say I collect football grounds, and watch for the look on their faces.
Since rediscovering the bug in 2004 I’ve managed to tick off around 30-40 new football grounds a season and despite every summer declaring – on this blog – an intention to ‘slow down a bit’, the opposite has been true. Here I am in October and that’s already nearly 30 new ticks for the season, with a good six months to go, and with the last of my Step 4 stadia due to be mopped up during the next few weeks I’m entering a spell where I can pick and choose throughout steps 5 and 6, wherever the mood takes me. Which is why today, mindful of an advancing weather front and wanting to cover all of the angles, I end up travelling to Kidderminster station and the Severn Valley Railway for a trip to AFC Bridgnorth.
I maybe forgot to mention that I’ve spent much of the summer, usually in the company of Aussie Jack, taking in the classic preserved railways of the land, whether standard or miniature gauge. This harks back to my train spotting days, when I was given a children’s book in which the hero and his dad travelled the country riding on such lines. For the life of me I can’t recall the name of this long lost book, or indeed the hero, but save to say the memories have endured with me and I’m now making up for lost time. Unfortunately my own son just would not be interested, unless there was a chance of zapping some aliens along the way.
The Crown Meadow ground of AFC Bridgnorth is today’s destination, and the only way of getting there by rail is via Kidderminster and the afore-mentioned Severn Valley Railway. Luckily today is a major steam event featuring classicly restored 46100 Royal Scot, West Country Class 34027, Taw Valley, and the recently built A1, 60163 Tornado. Despite the inclement whether, they’ve certainly brought the crowds out, and I enjoy several conversations with other enthusiasts, latterly over an excellent pint of Hop Back Entire Stout in the splendid Railwayman’s Arms, which is on Bridgnorth railway station.
That introduction to the town’s drinking establishments accomplished, I set off up the steep hill towards the White Lion, home of the Hop & Stagger Brewery. This friendly and comfortable local offers six cask beers, four of their own plus those of Ludlow and Hobsons. I plump for Sovereign, billed as a 4% ‘traditional’ (which usually means it’s not golden) bitter, which is tasty enough without being spectacular. It washes the cheese and onion cob down very well.
The next pub on my list, the Bell & Talbot, is not open, so I move onto the Kings Head yard, eschewing the pub of that name to visit the Stables Bar at the rear. It’s a single long room – the upstairs part is closed for refurbishment – with unusual cinema style seating, and the visit gets off to a dodgy start when my requests for ‘something like a mild’ reveals that the young barmaid has never heard of the term. It’s not her fault, it’s just inefficient training, but of the four of their own Bridgnorth Brewery Beers that they have on tap, the non-gold option is Monarch’s Way, which at 4.5% has more of the flavour that the previous Hop & Stagger brew was perhaps lacking. A bowl of cashews provides the perfect accompaniment.
I look in at the Wetherspoons, but with three deep at the bar all ordering food, I move onto the Bear, where the limited choice is all golden, so decide to give up on the drink and make the fifteen minute trek out of town to Crown Meadow, erstwhile home of Bridgnorth Town, who folded in 2013, and which is now in the hands of ‘phoenix’ club AFC Bridgnorth, operating in the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division.
As you enter the ground through vintage turnstiles – still sporting BTFC picked out in the ironwork – the modern clubhouse dominates. Its spacious interior encompasses two separate sections, and there’s big screen sports TV and a pool table. The only let-down is a lack of anything that the discerning beer drinker might consider interesting. The snack bar is set at one end of the covered terrace, has the usual meaty suspects alongside the ubiquitous chip, and horror of horrors, no chocolate bars. Or maybe they’ve just run out…..
It’s a wet day and the pitch looks soggy with a little puddle in one goalmouth but the threat to the game is minimal. The whole ground is built on a slope, but the impressive cantilever main stand has been constructed to pass the spirit level test, and, along with a covered terrace behind one goal, affords considerable protection from the elements. The other two sides border housing, and more than one well-lumped clearance from ‘ave-it’ defenders clatters off a tile roof.
The home side are flying high in the division, and with visiting Malvern Town symmetrically opposite in the league table, AFC are expected to dominate. In truth they have the better of a competitive first half where several chances are created but none are taken. This scenario is extended in the second half where shape goes out of the window and both teams go hammer and tongs, with only desperate defending, great goalkeeping, and rank bad finishing, maintaining parity. When the winner comes five minutes from time, it’s what you might expect. Another goalmouth scramble, but this time the guy on the floor manages to poke it home. and Bridgnorth take the points.
And so another addition to my intangible collection, my 650th new ground. Something else to tell the kids. Not that they’d be that bothered…..
Programme: £1 on the turnstile. Fairly minimal reading content.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Birdlife: Something screeching in a nearby aviary. Other than that just the usual gang of starlings meeting up on the floodlight pylons.
Toilets: Inside the clubhouse
Club shop: No
Music the players emerge to: Nothing I can remember
Kop Choir: No
Away supporters: just a handful