After a heavy week on the M4 to/from work, I decided to let the ‘train take the strain’ and southwest railways to transport me to the small town of Gillingham in North Dorset. Ros couldn’t find anything to do in the town so didn’t travel, but I was joined by my ‘hopping’ friend Dave Lewis who had travelled down from London.
Gillingham (is pronounced like a Fish Gill), or ‘Gill’ as it’s known the locals is not to be confused with the shabby Kent Medway town of the same name. In fact Gill is much more like what one thinks of as ‘middle england’, as one alighted from the railway station and sauntered down the high street, it was hard to believe it was Saturday afternoon it was so quiet! Pre-match we visited the ‘Wine Bar’ in Queen Street, which was err, a wine bar, but GBG listed, but frankly lacking any sort of atmosphere, and the local(e) beer it supposedly sells. Although a pint of Cornish St Austell ‘Tribute’ went down ok.
From there back towards the High Street into ‘The Square’ to ‘The Phoenix’. Ah, this was more like it, a proper old-fashioned boozer, but strangely more Cornish beer, hmmm? This time I sampled a pint of ‘Doom Bar’ from the Sharps Brewery. Dave and I both eyed up the large portions of food coming out of the kitchen, but sadly time did not allow us to sample before we headed off up the High Street to the game.
To confirm the small town attitude, the chippy next door had closed at 13:45! Obviously very strict eating times in Gillingham!
Turning left from the High Street into Hardings Lane, one passed a school (name escapes me) formed 1516, a pointer to a town with quite an interesting history, see > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gillingham,_Dorset
Once at the ground and through the one turnstile, for four pound entrance, and with one pound programme in hand. It also cost me three fifty for the enamel badge (stating formed 1879) happily purchased from the PA man. It was soon clear the ground facilities did not amount too much.
One rickety old stand on the opposite side, with horrible orange (perhaps tangerine) garish seats, and only hard standing around the other
three sides, although the stand did have some faded character to it.
BUT, what makes hopping at this level so enjoyable, and again apparent today at rural grounds like these, is the wonderful countryside scenery that can really enhance the match day experience. It was only a shame that today on a cold, mostly grey day, it was not shown off to it’s best, but it really was a lovely setting. And with the railway line running 30 yards behind the stand, for train spotting ground hoppers this is a double tick fest! Although I might add, I’m NOT one of those 🙂
The fixture had appealed to me, not only because it was a tick ground, and within easy walking distance of the railway station, also because Gill sat top of the Western League Div One pre match, and visitors Melksham (Wiltshire) were third,with Cadbury Heath sitting between.
Melksham attacked the clubhouse end in the 1st half up the hill. When I say up the hill, I should have said up the hill and across the slope, as the pitch did slope down and across, quite an unusual feature.
Melksham settled the quicker of the two, and although play pinged from one end to the other, it was not a great surprise when centre back Luke Smith put them ahead in the 22nd minute. Seven minutes later free scoring centre forward Gary Higdon netted a second, 0-2, and Gill looked shell-shocked. However for the last 20 minutes of the 1st half they took the game to Melksham, and it was somewhat against the run of play that Melksham won a penalty for a foul by the keeper in the 36th minute, strange that there was no booking given to the keeper for a blatant goal scoring opportunity.
Anyway, Josh Robinson blasted the ball wide, and one felt at the time this might be the lifeline that Gill required.
At half time I made a bee-line into the club house at some speed to relieve some of the effects of pre-match imbibing. And then got sidetracked by half time scores coming in on the clubhouse TV.
Then after a few minutes returned outside for a cuppa from the T Bar hatch which was located at the other end of the clubhouse. To find Dave coming in the other direction, with crumbs falling off his chops announcing to me he had ordered some chips and had just eaten a tasty sausage roll, and was off to the same location I had just been.
Whilst in the Q eyeing up the sausage rolls, one of the efficient and attractive young ladies working in said Tea bar came out of the door with two cones of freshly made chips, one was snapped up immediately, but then she did a couple of swivels and had no takers for the second cone. It seemed apparent this may be Dave’s pre-ordered chips, so I piped up, “did the orderer have a dark wooly hat on”, she replied “yes”, and whilst informing her he’d popped into the clubhouse, Mr Wooly hat wearer emerged from the clubhouse to claim his cone of chips, at the same time express his surprise and gratitude she’d tried to find him!
You don’t get personal service like that at Wembley or Old Trafford!
After half time refreshment we took up a position on the stand side of the ground but at the end Gillingham would be attacking with the full expectation that Gill would put some serious pressure on the Melksham back line.
We were not wrong, as Gill were pretty much dominant throughout the second half, and were it not for some seriously good defending and keeping could have scored a number of goals. Sadly for them, only one was scored, in the 67th minute from a few yards out by right full back Ryan Murray after a goal mouth scramble. Neither of us or some old fellas standing near had any idea who scored the goal as so many bodies had been packed into the penalty area. Oh for the joys of the modern communication world and the Western League website giving me this information on Sunday morning, what on earth did we do before the internet?
Gill player manager Adrian Foster, an ex pro, introduced himself to the game in the 71st minute, and his intelligent forward play and probing certainly helped, and really it did only looked a matter of time before they’d get a deserved equaliser.It never happened, Melksham celebrated at the end like they’d won a big cup tie, and the result certainly left the top of the table very interesting, with Cadbury Health certainly looking favourites with games in hand to seasons end.
Team Pld W D L F A GD Pts
Gillingham Town 24 15 3 6 61 39 22 48
Cadbury Heath 20 14 5 1 54 19 35 47
Melksham Town 22 14 5 3 47 23 24 47
Calne Town 23 12 7 4 36 19 17 43
At games end, we returned to the town centre, back to ‘The Square’ and visited ‘The Red Lion Hotel’ situated virtually next door to ‘The Phoenix’. Another decent boozer, I settled by the fire with a couple of half’s of Hall and Woodhouse brewery beers, whilst Dave was happy with his tried and trusted J20.
It certainly was hard to drag ourselves away from the warm log fire, and with Brighton/Newcastle on the big screen, and comfy leather sofas to boot, for the 10 min walk back to the station for the 17:51 train home.
Another quality day out, an enjoyable game, a friendly club and well worth a visit.