Saturday 28th January 2012 ko 2.00pm
Gloucestershire Northern Senior League Division Two
MORETON RANGERS 3 (Wallace 10 31 61)
SOUDLEY 0 Adams missed penalty 73
Att 19 (h/c)
The pretty Gloucestershire town lies in the heart of the Cotswolds, and is in fact very close to being in any one of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, or Oxfordshire. For me it represented an interesting ground to visit, on a day when I needed to be back in Oxford early.
The London Road ground has hosted a far higher level of football than the nominal step 9 it does now. Moreton Town staged Hellenic Premier football until the club were bankrupted mid-way through the 1994/95 season amid accusations that player-manager Mark Lawrenson was being paid £300 a week, on a ground owned by the National Playing Fields Association. That last fact points to a big issue for the former club, and one for the future of any club using the ground, in that NPFA rules prohibit charging for entry.
The current club was founded as an under-8’s team in 1997, and since the Moreton Town name was unavailable due to monies owed, the suffix Rangers was adopted. In 2004 adult football once again came to London Road, with a team being entered in the second division of the Cheltenham League. In 2009 the club were 20 points clear in the division one when disaster struck. An arson attack left the changing rooms gutted, and to gain entry to the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League, the club had to get something built, and quickly. Amazingly the club and local residents raised £72,000 and the impressive block was built.
There is a little piece of Welsh football history too. The ground was used for the first (1988/89) season of the reformed Newport AFC (now renamed County) as a means of avoiding the FAW’s attempts to get the new club to enter the Welsh pyramid.
The history is there for all to see when you enter. The remains of the old changing room block are still there and the floodlights look functional, until you’re told that the junction box went up in the blaze. Some benches have been constructed in the stand and a tea urn is placed at the back. The hot drinks and chocolate were most welcome on a chilly winter’s day.
These days the side is managed is managed by former Oxford United, Fulham, Huddersfield, and Leyton Orient player Gary Barnett. Barnett’s managerial career includes a spell as Jan Molby’s assistant at Kidderminster. As player-manager of Barry Town he won the League of Wales 5 times, and led the club into Europe 3 times, including an appearance in the UEFA Cup First Round Proper, losing to Aberdeen. These days, he runs a fitness business, and manages for fun. Molby incidentally, was due to appear at a fund-raiser for the club that evening.
The fixture looked on paper like a tough mid-table battle. On grass it was a mismatch as soon as a quickly taken corner was squared to Dougie Wallace who fired into the top left hand corner. The Soudley manager thought his full back should have headed clear, I thought few players have a telescopic neck. It set a tone for the entire game, constant Moreton pressure, and very few ideas from the visitors. Wallace got his second just after the half-hour, blasting home from just inside the box. It was clear that Wallace had it well within his capabilities to complete his hat trick, and he did so in style, holding off his marker and spinning round to shoot home. Soudley had just the one notable attack in the second half, their attacker being hauled down just inside the box. It summed up their afternoon neatly that Robert Adams’ penalty was turned round the box by McAteer for a corner. It was to be the only one they were to force all afternoon.
You wonder how far this Moreton incarnation can progress. There are plans to resurrect the floodlights and convert part of the stand to a clubhouse. The club see the future as being in the Gloucestershire County League, two promotions from here, but there are no ambitions to go any further, the difficulties in taking a gate being cited. Certainly the ownership by the NPFA has left Rangers with a ground far better than their current needs, and with a real sense of history. I hope they’ve seen the back of the bad luck that’s bedevilled football in this part of the world.