A combination of a genuine interest as well as a lack of funds at the back end of February has encouraged me to get my head into gear and get myself to some more Non-League grounds as my current number is only at 3. Cheltenham Town, Forest Green Rovers & Bath City are the only ones I’ve ventured to thus far and two of these three could well be a part of my Football League tally as of next season!
During my lunch break at work it is normally spent looking at possible Football League grounds to go to over the next month or so but this time it was different. I spent it
researching the Non-League pyramid. Until now I knew of the National League including South & North but other than that my knowledge was very limited. Once I had a better understanding I established that the Southern Premier League would be a good place to start. This also made me aware that the teams in this league were placed just one division above my Non-League childhood club, Yate Town, with whom I spent a number of happy years with in their Youth set-up. Another interesting thing about Groundhopping is watching games at grounds that I have previously played at, for example, I remember Leamington having a really nice ground so I look forward to visiting there again. I do not count these grounds as visits though if anyone wondered! Also, yes that is me, a very young, much skinnier me! I would of been 12 in this picture.
Anyway, onto my 1st Non-League game below the National League. It is a fairly local one to me in Bristol. A gentle 25 mile round trip to Paulton Rovers to watch them in their Southern League Premier tie against Chippenham Town. Rovers were desperate for points in their bid to avoid the drop whilst Chippenham were looking to continue their good form to cement their promotion push to the National League South.
I have to admit, the things that had originally put me off Non-League is the lack of atmosphere due to low attendances, poor grounds & poor football but this evening proved me wrong on two of those three points. A lovely little ground it proved to be, fit for 2,500 spectators and was built in 1967 but has since had a number of developments, most recently in 2004. My favourite part of the ground was definitely the raised terrace behind one goal. In recent history, the ground held Paulton’s first and only live match on ITV when they hosted Norwich City in the first round of the FA Cup in front of 2,070 people. Unfortunately for them the result wasn’t great, a 7-0 drumming by the League One outfit.
This game would be sightly different, a total of 220 people witnessed this Southern Premier League tie which ended in a 1-0 win for the visitors. The game never oozed quality and had very limited chances, especially in the opening 45 minutes. It was always the away side who looked the more likely to score with some messy corners which could easily have ended up in the net without all the blocks coming in. In addition to this, a couple of decent saves by the Paulton keeper, Ben John who was the voice of Rovers throughout the game.
The second half was fairly similar to the first, limited in chances. I decided to change my location also by making my way to the stand on the half way line, seen in the picture but only lasted 25 minutes because it was absolutely freezing with little protection from the wind. Chippenham began to improve & with about 20 minutes to go from a dangerous attack they forced a good save by John again but was tapped home. However their joy was cut short as it was ruled out by the linesman for offside. Rovers had survived this but it was’t going to last for long. on 83 minutes, an attack which was literally identical to the attack which led to the offside goal, was this time poked home to the delight of the Chippenham directors & supporters. 1-0 and it stayed like this until the end to keep Chippenham in touching distance with Poole Town at the top of the league with this away win.
The final whistle brought an end to what had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the start of my Non-League journey. Good luck to both sides for the remainder of the season, I look forward to seeing them both over the coming 7 days again. Chippenham away to Frome and Paulton away to Cirencester respectively.
What Were The Statistics?
Paulton Rovers 0-1 Chippenham Town
Attendance – 220
Price of ticket – £7 (Student)
Programme – £2.00
Car Parking – Free
Miles Travelled – 25
Frome Town vs. Chippenham Town – 20/02/2016
Cirencester Town vs. Paulton Rovers – 23/02/2016