Saturday 23rd March 2013 ko 14.30
North Berkshire League Division One
CROWMARSH GIFFORD 1 (Lee 80)
LONG WITTENHAM ATHLETIC 3 (Saunders 33 Bowler 51 Sheppard 58)
Att 23 (h/c)
With Mum still in Wallingford Hospital, I decided to stay local as I wanted to make sure I spent as much time with her as I could. That immediately placed me four-square in the territory of my favourite league, the North Berkshire. What I didn’t realise early in the morning that this game was going to be my only option, the snow meant that everything else in the league was postponed, and I got the chance to sound out a potential future groundhop host club.
Crowmarsh Gifford is very much the twin of Wallingford, lying just over the Thames from its neighbour. I remember when the main road from Oxford to Reading ran through the middle, and for a few years the “Welcome Sign” was for “Crowmarsh McGiffordish” after a bout of graffiti.
In history Crowmarsh and Wallingford were fierce rivals. In 1139 King Stephen built a wooden fort in Crowmarsh, the first of a series built in opposition to Wallingford Castle, which supported his cousin Matilda during the civil war known as The Anarchy. The forts were dismantled under the terms of the Treaty of Wallingford of 1153, and only the remains of Wallingford Castle remain.
Later on Jethro Tull invented the seed drill here in 1701, which seemed a reasonable analogy for the grassroots football I was watching, and in 1944 a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax bomber with a full bomb load caught fire over Wallingford. Most of the crew bailed out, but Flying Officer Wilding and Sergeant Andrew gave their lives to steer the plane away from the town and crash it into the fields of Crowmarsh. They are commemorated by an obelisk at the junction of Wilding Road and Andrew Road in Wallingford.
The Crowmarsh Gifford Recreation Ground is at the first left turn after crossing the bridge from Wallingford. It’s a municipal facility with two football pitches either side of the cricket square, and these are serviced by a large, beautifully appointed pavilion. I immediately pictured the place with 200 hoppers there, then pondered how on earth a ground less than 100 yards from the Thames could possibly be the only game on in the area? That fact meant that there was a decent crowd including League Treasurer Mike Panting, and my mate Press Officer Phil Annets, without whom the hopping populace would never have enjoyed the chilli at Uffington United.
The game pitched the league champions against another top side in the league, and being close by there’s real rivalry between the two sides. The first few minutes were attritional as the midfields fought for supremacy, but once the deadlock was broken Wittenham took control. Matt Gesner did well to save Callum Bowler’s header from a corner, but Matt Saunders reached the loose ball and stabbed home. That lead was doubled after the break, Bowler being put through, and he made no mistake firing home past Gesner. Two rapidly became three. Long Wittenham again exploited Crowmarsh’s weakness at corners, as the inswinger was nodded back across goal to Sam Sheppard to tap in.
Three-Nil would have been rough on Crowmarsh so when Scott Gesner was adjudged to have fouled just inside the box, James Lee’s penalty gave the scoreline the respectability that the hosts deserved. The tackles had flown in throughout the game and it’d had been a thoroughly engrossing afternoon’s entertainment. The final whistle went, and the two teams trooped off chatting as old friends, after the task of taking down the nets had been completed. Which is of course, exactly how it should be in my favourite league.