Saturday July 28th 2012 – KO 1500, Pre-Season Friendly at the Recreation Ground.
I left home whilst Olympic cyclists were sweating up and down a famous Surrey beauty spot, on Box hill, a place I know well.
A sport normally totally ignored totally by the British media and sports watching public, much like my normal summer sport passion, Speedway.
BUT, and this is a big but, because of Bradley ‘sideburns’ Wiggins fantastic and historic Le Tour win the week before and the subsequent media attention, made sure this race now very much jumped up the pecking order of ‘to watch’ Olympic events. Add in the spice of having a runner-up at the tour also, Froome, and that Mark Cavendish was trying to break his Olympic gold medal duck, it had all the ingredients of a British medal or two.
Of course the easy option would have been to lounge about at home taking in this historic event on the TV. But I decided, it was time, time indeed to begin my season 2012-13 football watching campaign.
Since early/mid July I’d been looking at the pre-season fixtures, trying to find one that stood out, that if not exactly got my juices flowing, maybe at least slightly tugged at my attention bone, and help to tear me away from the lure of considering Speedway and Olympic watching.
Actually, the only fixture that really had caught my eye, was as the same venue I was headed today. On Fri July 20 Aldershot had entertained Warta Poznan, a top flight team from Poland, but I had already pre-purchased a beer festival ticket for that evening, but apparently it finished 0-0, so perhaps it was no great loss.
You see, pre-season friendlies are not my bag, I like the competitive nature of games, with points at stake, cup rounds to qualify from, not the excuse to get fit, run off the summer over indulgence, lets use the whole squad in 95 minutes. I find almost every pre-season game is ok for the first 45 mins but then degenerates into a seamless farce of substitutions and lack of cohesive play. Of course, on the upside, generally the weather is good, no one is stressed about the performance and result, and it gives you a chance to check out any pre-season signings,
After a very easy 36 mile 50 min drive from my Reading home. I enjoyed 45 mins in the marvellous GBG listed White Lion pub, chewing the fat with a few Palace mates and enjoying a couple of beers from the Triple F range. Then I marched up the High Street to the ground, a 15 min ish walk from the White Lion.
Now Aldershot, is not your standard Hampshire town, it’s not a new town (like Basingstoke), it’s not prosperous and well to do town (like Winchester, and many others in Hants), it really does feel a little down at heel. It’s an army town of course, although I’ve never noticed any evidence of this on my visits for football. Honestly, you could be in any big city suburb walking up Aldershot high street, perhaps I’ve missed something? But I’ve seen little reason to come here, but to watch football.
Another reason for my visit today, was that, as far as my now hazy memory could confirm, I’d not seen Palace play here since our 3rd division days in the mid 70s, in fact I saw two defeats here, 1-2 in Jan 75, and 0-1 in Dec 75 (in front of almost 14,000!). The shots famously went out of business, but quickly re-formed in 1992 as Aldershot Town FC and started life in the Isthmian Ryman League D3.
Regaining their league spot in 2008, an impressive resurgence considering that there are plenty of other local clubs in the area, Woking, Farnborough etc to name just two. Aldershot fans should be congratulated for sticking with their club when it could have been just as easy to pack it in, and watch someone higher up the football pyramid. Of course I’d seen them play a number of times in their NL days at the Recreation Ground, and had re-visited to tick Aldershot Town FC (as against Aldershot FC) as a league club a couple of years ago v Torquay.
Frankly the ground has amazingly changed little in almost 40 years. The only major noticeable difference being that the Rec end, now has advertising hoarding hanging high on the fence behind the goal, whereas back in the 70s this end was flat standing, I remember it being 5/10 rows deep for the Palace game in Dec 75!
Arriving at the turnstiles at about 14:45, I was met by a fairly long queue, thankfully sense prevailed and they opened up another turnstile to make sure the 535 Palace fans got inside in time. More importantly I bagged one of what looked liked one of the last 20 or so programmes available, others told me later they had indeed sold out.
Palace fielded new signings, Ward (Pompey, right back), Martin (Saints, season loan, centre back), Wilbraham (Norwich, forward), and trialist Jose Baxter (released by Everton, right midfield/wing). And as I expected, the first half was indeed quite entertaining, with both teams counter attacking and playing some nice stuff on the ground. Palace, as one would expect from a side two levels higher had slightly more possession, and general ability on the ball. In particular Jose Baxter on the right-wing was linking very well with Easter and Wilbraham and looked very tidy. Easter created and missed a few chances, Wilbraham had some nice touches, and O’Keefe was his usual tenacious self in midfield. Added to this, the very steady and accomplished performances of new signings Ward and Martin, then all looked fairly rosy in the Palace garden, in particular after O’Keefe smashed a lovely 25 yard volley into the top of the net after 38 minutes.
Palace only made one change at ht, but then proceeded to introduce another 9 players mid way into the half (what did I say earlier!). Palace lost their way with all these changes, and Aldershot frankly looked the better team for a while. Really only after the introduction of Wilf Zaha did we regain control. And then on 80 mins he took on the shots right back and easily jinked past that defender before seemingly effortlessly stroking the ball into the bottom right corner. So 0-2, game over.
Yes Aldershot had some good periods of play, but Palace held firm, and the good away turnout basking in the milky sun were happy to stay at the end and applaud the team from the pitch (the second half team!).
Oh, and we won no medals at all in the cycle race!!
Aldershot Starting Eleven – Young, Herd, Tonkin, Brown, Lancashire, Payne, Rankine, O’Swate?, Stanley, Reid, Roberts.
Palace – Price, Ward (Wynter), Moxey (Wright), O’Keefe (Murray), McCarthy (Ramage), Martin (Diaz), Baxter (Appiah), KG (Parsons), Wilbraham (Fenwick), Easter (Jedinak), Garvan (Zaha).