Potholes and Walnuts

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Saturday October 13 2012, at Hillgrounds Leisure, Kempston. Kick off 15:00.

United Counties League Premier Division.

AFC Kempston Rovers (Red and White Stripes/Black) 1-0 Cogenhoe United (Royal Blue/Royal Blue).

Admission £5, programme included, tea 80p, sausage roll £1.20, attendance 55.

My usual pre Saturday dilemma, where to go?
I really wanted to be in Greater Manchester doing a double. Being the official ‘Non League Day’, the conference had organised 3 games in Cheshire with staggered kick off times,  culminating in a 18:30pm KO at Hyde FC, a club/ground I’d not previously visited.
With plenty of other Greater Manchester/Cheshire 3pm options available, it was very enticing. But, I was at Wembley on the night before (England 5-0 v San Marino), a busy week at work, blah blah.
So, the sensible decision was to stay fairly close to home, say up to a ninety minute drive.
My initial choice had been Cranfield United in the South Midlands League. Fine, said Ros, she would check for places for her to visit close by. The answer, ‘Wrest Park – http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wrest-park/‘, ten miles south of Bedford.
Upon closer inspection of the roadmap, I found that the Bedfordshire club of AFC Kempston Rovers of the United Counties league was easier for Wrest Park.
And so, this is where we headed.

Once known as the largest village in England, Kempston is now a town with its own town council. It has a population of about 20,000, and together with Bedford, it forms an urban area with around 100,000 inhabitants, which is the sole significant urban area in the Borough of Bedford. Kempston serves principally as a dormitory town for Bedford and for Milton Keynes, which is about ten miles away.

Although Kempston had two entries in the Good beer guide, I didn’t bother with either. Both sounded rather dull with a bog standard range of beers, time was not on my side, and the plan was to stop of in Bucks on the way home for food and beer.

At twenty past two I was ‘the’ first spectator through the turnstile. I know this because the KR official opened the gate, carrying cash tray and programmes, as I approached the clubhouse/entrance. I’d  just had another experience of bucking and rearing across a potholed riddled car park. This being about my 3rd in the last few weeks, having seen the same at Cobham (the approach road), and Colney Heath. Now I totally understand that NL clubs budgets hardly run to keeping a tarmaced smooth car park, but at Cobham, the road was through the park, presumably not even owned by the club! and at Colney Heath, the access road led to public amenities, before entering into the club car park, and these access roads were both in a dreadful state! One would think that for Cobham and CH the roads are maintained by the council. So come up chaps, splash the cash, Cobham is hardly the most economically affected part of England is it!

Anyway, upon entering the ground, my initial impression was  ‘so so’. Every groundhopper will normally have a strong first impression, ranging from ‘wow, it’s hopping p*rn’, to hmm, ‘so so’ to ‘I really don’t like this one’. Hillgrounds only has one side of the ground covered, the car park/clubhouse side of the ground, although the cover is quite substantial and entirely adequate for a club playing at step five in the national pyramid. Both ends behind the goal are flat standing, both nicely enclosed by trees. It’s the 4th side of the ground opposite that lets it down. Two dugouts, spoil this side from a spectator perspective, jutting out toward the pitch, blocking a clear view of both touch lines (I tested it!). And with their all-weather training pitch behind. Also, clearly a  good way to create money for the club, it’s advertised in the match programme, but it’s enclosed by a monstrosity of a high perimeter fence, that to my mind spoils the overall ambience of the ground.

Pre-match, I went on my usual hunt, that normally involves these things, some food, a cuppa, the team lineups, and an enamel badge if one exists. The second thing I’d noticed upon entrance, was a large sign, with the club name, and club badge very prominent. I almost laughed out loud to see them proudly declare themselves as ‘The Walnut Boys’, and carried on sniggering when noticing the club badge did have a walnut sitting proudly in the middle of it! Reading later in the programme, that Kempston used to have large walnut orchard in the town.

Only cover at Hillgrounds

Sadly, I was told in the clubhouse that a badge did not exist, although they said they are asked about this regularly. That the food (sausage rolls/pasties), sitting warming in the heater on the bar top, would  not be ready until half time, but yes the tea bar downstairs was already open. Upon arrival at said tea bar, I was told there was no hot food, “upstairs”, I was told, hmm. Making do with a Mars bar to tide me over, I was then helpfully directed toward the committee room to scribble the line ups from the team sheets.

The game started at a good pace, with The Walnut Boys and the Cooks (Cogenhoe is actually spoken as ‘Cookenhoe’ apparently) going at each other. Kempston started the stronger, and after only six minutes homester no 10 Sam Holmes, swiveled just inside the area, and then hit a firm rising shot into the roof of the net, 1-0, a very good goal. Kempston continued to be the more assertive team without being able to add to their early goal, Ash Farmer had a number of long-range shots for Kempston. As the half wore on, Cogenhoe came more into the game but created little. On 43 mins, Cooks no 9 Bates hit the bar from 20 yards with a volley. HT 1-0.

Sausage roll, very nice, very hot, very ready 🙂

On fifty-two minutes Cogenhoe hit the bar again, I didn’t see who struck it, as by now I was touring the ground camera in hand snapping it for posterity.

Farmer and Holmes continued to be the dominant players for Kempston, with Farmer again have two chances on 90 mins and 90+2, the second being a 30 yard lob with only the keeper to beat. But it stayed 1-0, with possibly Cogenhoe feeling a tad aggrieved they were unable to take at least a point from the game.

Another bumpy exit, and I was soon back on my way to Wrest Park. As is the norm for most clubs at this level, all the officials and helpers at Kempston were a helpful and friendly bunch, I wish them well. It only leaves me to say ….NUUUUTTTTTTTSSSS  !!! 

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