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Saturday 5th June 2021 ko 14.30

Thames Valley Premier League – Division One


READING YMCA 2 (Hormola 7 Donegan 61p)

Att c24 at Bishopswood Sports Field, Gallowstree Common.

Free Entry

Given I’d not seen a game at Bishopswood this was something of a sentimental return for me. Back in the day I had a blonde girlfriend who worked for a brewery, which did have a few advantages. The brewery in question was Brakspear in Henley-on-Thames, and we spent many an evening ticking off the pubs of the Brakspear estate- it was clear looking back that the groundhopping gene was active even then! One of the best pubs was the Reformation at Gallowstree Common and I remember driving past the Bishopswood Sports Field and me thinking “I really ought to see a game there!” It only took another 25 years….

The sadness of the piece is that the Reformation is now closed, seeking a new landlord, but there is no earthly reason why I never got round to visiting the football ground. During my Henley days I lived less than 4 miles away! Needless to say you are in Millionaires Row here, Dave Gilmour has a house in Checkendon (where he used to store Pink Floyd’s famous inflatable pink pig!), George Michael had a home in Goring-on-Thames, and continuing the musical theme ace producer and Buggles singer Trevor Horns’ Hookend studios are nearby too.

It is, on reflection, not the usual type of place to have once staged Step 6 football, and I am oft of the opinion that well-do-areas and football clubs don’t usually mix. Sonning Common Peppard FC  (the Sonning Common prefix was dropped in 1990) played in the Chiltonian, Combined Counties and Hellenic Leagues here from 1987-2001. They won  the Combined Counties title two years in succession in 1992/3/ and 93/4  but ended up moving to Palmer Park, Reading for the 2001-2 season to fulfil ground grading regulations. They folded after one season after it was discovered that the Palmer Park pitch was too narrow for pyramid football- the discovery coming when they played Oxford City in a FA Vase game; how times change!

Since then Bishopswood was used by the likes of Park United but since 2012 Rotherfield United have played Reading League, now Thames Valley Premier League games here, and if you aren’t familiar with the villages of South Oxfordshire Rotherfield Peppard is a nearby village.  You can see why, the ground is still largely what southern England Step 6 in the early part of the century looked like. There’s a railed off pitch, hard standing one one side of the pitch and container changing rooms, that replaced the former clubhouse- a victim of an arson attack- you can still the chimney behind the new changing rooms!

The match had significance, Reading YMCA are in a race with Wargrave for the Division One title, and although promotion, subject to the AGM looks assured, silverware is a massive motivation for any club. Here Rotherfield made them work for their win, but referee Ian Scott also had to work hard to keep a lid on tempers.

Two sin-bins for dissent, one each tells its own story and while YMCA were clearly the better team they’ll have to learn how to win easier once they take their place in the Premier division. As for Rotherfield, and the sports ground with quite a history, I was just happy to see it still in use. I still have no idea why it took me so long to visit, and I hope someone takes on the Reformation. I was a fine pub back in the day.