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Saturday 18th May 2013 ko 15.00

Gloucestershire County League

BERKELEY TOWN 1 (Mackie 45)

THORNBURY TOWN 3 (D Thompson 23 Derosa 31 N Irwin 63)

Att 102

Entry by donation

Programme £1

Tea-in-a-mug 50p

On occasion I get asked how I pick my games. Normally its fairly random, with the major determinant being what time I want to get home. This one broke the mould somewhat as I actually bothered to see if anything was riding on the result first. More on that later.

For a county associated with Rugby Union, Gloucestershire really is a footballing hotbed, with two strong, well organised leagues, the Northern Senior League feeding into the County League.

The surprise for me was just how much there is to visit and enjoy about Berkeley, and I have fellow groundhopper and subscriber Bob Mewse to thank for pointing me in the right direction. For a start there’s the castle, sadly closed on my visit. Its a motte-and-bailey affair, built around 1067 by William FitzOsbern, and is most famous for being where Edward II was murdered on September 21, 1327.

He’d been desposed by his wife Isabella of France and her lover and ally Roger Mortimer, and imprisoned. The difficulty was that Edward had to die, so their easily manipulated son (Edward III) could be installed as king. Execution would require the King to be tried and convicted of treason. Most authorities agreed that Edward was a poor king, the loss of the Battle of Bannockburn against the Scots in 1314 was the country’s worst defeat since the Battle of Hastings, but several argued that, since appointed by God, the King could not be legally deposed or executed as God would punish the country in retribution.

The solution was grisly, if legend is to be believed. A clean body was necessary for public display, so Edward was reputedly murdered on September 21st 1327 with a red hot poker, and I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where it was applied. The cell where he is supposed to have been imprisoned and murdered can still be seen and apparently you can still hear the screams each September 21st…

There’s more treats than just the castle. Edward Jenner was born here, and his house is open to the public. He is the father of immunology after discovering that milk-maids seldom got smallpox. Jenner concluded that the pus in the blisters that milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected them from smallpox. On 14th May 1796, Jenner tested his hypothesis by inoculating James Phipps, an eight-year-old boy who was the son of Jenner’s gardener. He scraped pus from cowpox blisters on the hands of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom. The boy was then brought into contact with smallpox but didn’t catch the disease.

Next door to the Jenner House is the Church of St Mary, where Jenner is buried. Its an unusual place, the tower is separate from the main body of the church. It was used as a Royalist defence during the civil war, and the North Door still shows the scars, musket ball holes are evident. In the graveyard lies Dicky Pearce, famous as the last court jester. He was the Earl of Suffolk’s fool, born in 1665, but in 1728 during a performance he overbalanced from the minstrel gallery and fell to his death. The question has been raised; did he fall or was he pushed? He’d apparently made fun of one of Lord Berkeley’s guests who had taken offence, but the truth will never be known.

Berkeley’s football season has been one of struggle. It didn’t help when the roof blew off the stand during a storm, but the club’s principle problems have been on the pitch. With two to be relegated the club found themselves third from bottom, one point ahead of DRG Frenchay with Forest Green-based Taverners already relegated.

With this being the last fixture of the season, Berkeley needed to better Frenchay’s result, with the Bristolians at home to Rockleaze Rangers. I had the added bonus of Lee West being at Frenchay. I kept the home bench aware of the score, they opted not to tell the players, taking the view that if the game was won, results elsewhere were irrelevant.

Sadly for this notably friendly side that didn’t happen. Thornbury started the brighter and soon worked out there was a real weakness in their hosts- their defence had shipped 89 goals in 35 games, and there was a real gap between left back and left centre half. Thornbury took full advantage with Brad Andrews in midfield pulling the strings, and a scoreline of 0-2 after half an hour was a fair reflection on play.

But then the unexpected happened, Berkeley worked out that their only means of defence was to attack. Karl Nash missed a sitter, then hit the crossbar, a certain penalty was denied by referee Alan Overthrow, and on the stroke of halftime James Mackie fired home to give Berkeley hope.

With the half time whistle having already sounded at Frenchay, and the score 0-0 it meant that Berkeley needed just the one goal for survival. That didn’t look likely as Thornbury soon re-established their superiority. Nathan Irwin scored the third, as the Berkeley players’ heads dropped, but salvation was at hand to the south. Rockleaze scored twice to make the game I was at irrelevant, but it was obvious that the players has no idea.

As the final whistle went, the home players sank to their knees clearly thinking that they’d been relegated. The Berkeley chairman quietly found the league delegate present, confirmed the Frenchay result and told his players. Other than one pumped fist their was no obvious relief, or celebration the players gathered up the two dugouts and trudged back to the clubhouse, no doubt reflecting on their lucky escape.