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Sunday 30th May 2021 ko 10:30

Upper Thames Valley Sunday League

CHILTON BLUE & WHITES 2 (Carrigan 27 A Stevens 31p)

GREATER LEYS YELLOWS 3 (Smith 10 Ludlow 13p Harvey 90)

Att c50 at Atomic Energy Research Engineering (South) Ground, Chilton, near Harwell

Free Entry

Some games you attend due to friendship, some you attend to visit a new ground, while others you find yourself watching purely because there’s something riding on the result. Oddly, in the end this one ended up being all three!

The root of it all was Chilton’s win at Tackley United a week earlier which set up a straight shootout with Greater Leys Yellows for the title in the final game of the season. A draw would see Greater Leys take the title, but Chilton would have home advantage. Chilton sent me details of where their ground is and I took it as being the former Harwell International Ground that was featured on the final North Berkshire League Hop. Life wasn’t to be as straightforward as that though!

I arrived at what I thought was the ground and since there were no goals up and the groundsman was mowing the grass for cricket, so I wondered if the tie was actually being played at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Ground, just round the corner- its the ground that Drayton borrowed for their game on that last hop but I soon discovered is now behind a security gate and no longer accessible; I guess we got our timing right with that hop game! 

So I’d virtually given up and was about to drive away when I spotted players warming up behind a hedge! It transpired that Chilton are using the Atomic Energy Research Engineering (South) Ground- it’s along the road from the Harwell International Ground with a car park and an access road separating the two. Its where AERE Harwell’s “A” team used to play North Berkshire League games in the early 1990’s with the parent club eventually metamorphosing into Harwell International in 1998 before folding in 2014. Or in groundhopper terms it was a completely unexpected new tick- if ever the adage about buying a lottery ticket applied this was it!

The crying shame of this season’s Upper Thames Valley League (and plenty of others) was that so many games had been lost, to a mixture of teams failing to raised a team through to no-shows. It was clear though, that the best two clubs had finished in the top two positions in the table and so this was a fitting way to finish the season- a shoot-out for the title.

It was worth the effort in finding the game too, although for the first few minutes it looked like Greater Leys could run riot. Kidlington FC striker Callum Harvey looking virtually unplayable. They scored twice, once through Jamar Smith’s finish from an almost impossible angle and once through Oli Ludlow’s penalty- given for a blatant shove in the back. 

But Chilton found something within themselves that frankly I doubted they had and pulled themselves back into the game.  Kyle Carrigan pulled a goal back and when Ashley Stevens’ penalty brought the score back to parity it was clear I was watching something very special. That feeling was enhanced when Brad Dolton saw red for a challenge he was clearly not in control of and he should be given credit for apologising to the player on the receiving end of his challenge, and after the game to the referee. A few others present at this match didn’t have his class. 

So could Chilton force a winner against 10 men, and with it win the title? The records will show that they couldn’t but they came close enough for me to wonder what might have happened if the UTVL had goal line technology, with a scrambled chance at a corner as the game entered its last minute. But perhaps Callum Harvey deserved to have the last word. In stoppage time I actually overheard one of the Greater Leys entourage comment that “He hasn’t scored yet, that’ll annoy him!” and a second later he let fly from 25 years out- truthfully no goalkeeper on earth was going to stop that shot; it was a goal worthy of winning any championship.  

The goal sparked the inevitable pitch invasion and why is it that it’s always someone within the hangers-on that feels the need to goad the fans on the other side of the pitch? One slightly-built lad would have been flattened if any of the Chilton players and supporters had responded to his infantile antics, all credit to them for not taking the bait, and having the class to stay at the final whistle to applaud Greater Leys as they received the trophy from the league’s Tim Siret. Tim by the way has done more for local football could be expected of anyone, and does have the dubious distinction of being referee at the last game I ever played. He should have sent me off for a challenge Brad Dolton would recognise, but didn’t mainly because I’d got so slow my challenge completely missed my intended target!!!

This was of course Greater Leys Yellows day, and all congratulations should go to them- the booze was already flowing when I left. On a more general level this has been a quite horrible year for local football and it is sad to to see the UTVL struggling in the same way many other local leagues are. Hopefully as Covid restrictions are further eased local football will recover, so long as there are enough people like Tim Siret around to make it all happen.