Friday 19th July 2019 ko 18.30
SOUTHAM UNITED 2 (72 85)
CROPREDY 3 (Welch 25 Dineen 35 Reeves 80)
Att 26 at Youth Ground, Banbury Road.
Back in the the day when I lived in Banbury it became something of a tradition for Southam to play near neighbours Leamington at 11am each Boxing Day. It was never likely to be a tradition that lasted, the reformed Leamington were never likely to stay in the Midland Combination for long. Nevertheless I’m sure Southam enjoyed the bumper crowd, and I enjoyed visiting each time, even to the point of me enjoying a plate of bubble and squeak as my ex-wife drove me to Oxford United for their festive fixture afterwards!
I always liked their Banbury Road ground, even if the wooden terracing in the stand did tend to be extremely slippery when wet. It was more than sufficient for the club’s needs and it had character by the bucketload. However the ground was always likely to be on borrowed time as there were too many people looking covetously at it.
Your could always see why. Southam is only a few miles from the M40 and is just over the border from Oxfordshire. It’s an extremely pleasant market town, with the quirk that the place is absolutely darts mad, presumably because world champions Steve Beaton and Trina Gulliver hail from here!
The ground was always going to be attractive to housing developers, and there was and is the added complication of the HS2 rail route potentially passing by. As an aside I had a short-lived job in nearby Fenny Compton a few years ago and the MD was the kind of person that inspired everyone… to leave! She handed out leaflets against HS2 with a tear-off to send to Parliament so we could give our views on the proposal. I know plenty posted them in expressing a view in favour just to spite her. It was no bad thing I resigned soon after!
In the end Bloor Homes bought the ground, and agreed to build Southam United a new ground nearby, and the proposed railway will now run west of the town. The problem in the meantime was on the pitch. Two successive bottom-place finishes in the Midland League Division One saw Southam withdraw from adult football at the end of the 2016-17 season, and rely on their youth set-up to rebuild.
Their presence has been a clever bit of thinking dating from 2001. Southam Town Juniors’ ground was immediately south of the old ground, also on the Banbury Road so it made sense for the two clubs to merge, and those juniors have provided the backbone for Southam’s return to adult football. The old ground has now been demolished- just the gates remain with the floodlights and stand making their way to Southam Rugby Club.
Obviously the new ground will provide much impetus, and is clearly aimed for a club looking to the Southern League, rather than the 3 promotions from that they find themselves at now. It’s named after club stalwart Bobby Hancocks who holds the records for both appearances and goals for Southam. The new ground is a 2 minute walk from the old ground and about a 5 minute drive past the Tesco and through an industrial estate! This friendly was held on the old Southam Town Juniors ground, so I parked up at the new ground and walked across to the old.
The real surprise of Southam’s return is which league they’ll be in. The FA has allocated them to the Hellenic League Division 2 North, a league the club have never played in, and they’ll be only the second Warwickshire club to play in the Hellenic. Can you name the first? The answer is after the photos.
Now I’ll cover the new ground when the Hellenic Hop visits (news on that over the August Bank Holiday by the way) but I’ve included a few shots and a swan at the end of these from the junior ground and what little is left of the old ground.
The game saw Southam take on a team from less than 10 miles away, but due to the vagaries of county boundaries I doubt they’ll ever meet in a competitive fixture. Cropredy are just about on the other side of the border in Oxfordshire, and other than being the site of an English Civil War battle are famous for the annual Fairport Convention Festival. It’s a useful money-spinner for the Oxon Senior League club; their clubhouse does a roaring trade in breakfasts and they rent out their showers to festival goers.
This game appealed to me in part as it was a rare chance to see a game on the pitch that you could argue is where the current Southam United was born. And on summer’s evening what could be better than watching a local game in the sun? Well, I’m yet to find out as the weather intervened! The rain lashed down in torrents, the local press photographer gave the whole thing up as a bad job after 15 minutes and my umbrella broke just after half time!
In the end I accepted my fate, and glumly phoned Robyn back in Oxford to leave out a towel and a change of clothes. I’m not the type to give up, and the game was entertaining despite the conditions. In the end Cropredy won it, mainly because their players were more used to playing together. Southam’s two late goals, including a 25 yard thunderbolt was caused in no small part by Cropredy being down to 10 men for the last 10 minutes due to a sin binning. That will be an important lesson learned, and in a game that didn’t matter. The miscreant is in my final photo, his team mates didn’t see fit to give him the key to the changing room!
I squelched back to the car, and drove back down the A423 to Banbury, cold and wet, and even my attempt at a restorative coffee failed- the local Costa was closed. I managed to convince myself that my first soaking of the season was some form of soul cleansing and that at least it would mean the forthcoming Peterborough Hop would be dry. Needless to say I was wrong on both counts.
Nevertheless it’s good to see Southam back in adult football and the new ground looks to be a must-visit. Let’s hope that the club can use Bobby Hancocks Park to rebuild towards the status they once held. I’ll look forward to my visit to the main ground next time.
Stratford Town played in the Hellenic Premier for 2 seasons from 1975 to 1977