Sunday 26th December 2021 ko 15:00
National League North
GLOUCESTER CITY 0
Entry (Unreserved seat, “City Stand” bought in advance) £13
It wasn’t completely inevitable that I’d be watching Gloucester City. Post Christmas football seems to involve a dual lottery, firstly that of waterlogged pitches, and secondly Covid postponements. As is becoming a tradition these days Robyn and I spent the second half of Christmas Day with family in Bristol, and while I’m sure I could have found two games to do on Christmas Sunday, I probably needed the lie-in more. And Gloucester’s pitch did mean that the first half of that lottery would probably fall in my favour. Of course if you know the history of Meadow Park, you know the irony of that last comment!
Meadow Park lies close to the River Severn and as a result the ground was always prone to flooding. Floods in 1990, 2000 and finally in July 2007 saw water at the level of the crossbar and the club forced into exile. A solution, a groundshare at new stadium with Gloucester RUFC was scuppered by the rugby club and sharing at Kingsholme was deemed too expensive by the football club.
For the next 13 years the club groundshared at variously Forest Green Rovers, Cirencester Town, Cheltenham Town and Evesham Town. Proposals were put forward for grounds at the likes of Quedgley Wanderers, Blackridge Athletics Stadium, and Javelin Park. All were rejected, and the latter is now the incinerator plant visible from the M5.
One thing I didn’t expect was the club to return to Meadow Park, for obvious reasons! But the club have hopefully solved the flooding issue by raising the ground by roughly 15 feet and installing an artificial pitch. You can see just how much higher the pitch is by the walk up to the ground from the turnstiles, or from the view of the old terrace from the new at the far end. Even the retention of three old floodlights, each now outside of the ground shows how remarkable the transformation is.
Elsewhere cost has clearly been an issue. Arriva House, the clubhouse at the old ground was in one corner but has been reconfigured and is rather inconveniently placed at the half way line, and so two 350-seat stands sit either side of it. The club have worked extremely hard to make it all work, I did like the use of shipping containers to provide hospitality areas at the back of the Stadium Solutions stands, and the potential to expand the ground is obvious.
With Robyn opting to see family back in Bristol I had nephew Che for company, and he was rather taken by the banners at the “T-End” and yes City legend Adie Mings is England international Tyrone Mings’ father. But as I pondered telling him that I saw Adie play, but not so far Tyrone, a fan spotted that I had a teamsheet and asked whether City substitute Dejon Noel-Williams was any relation of former Watford striker Gifton Noel-Williams?
Fortunately for me Noel-Williams (Jnr) had a stint at Oxford United so I know Gifton is his father and was sat a couple of seats away with a good turnout from his wider family. The young man got quite a cheer when he came on with only 15 minutes left!
It was fitting the visitors were Leamington FC who know better than most about keeping a club alive with no ground, but sadly empathy didn’t make for a good game. Gloucester City have Bristol Rovers legend Lee Mansell in interim charge- it was his shoot-out penalty at Wembley that took the Gas back into the league. But he’s got his work cut out here, the team looked lacking in confidence, and resorting to a biff down the channels doesn’t work when there’s no mud to hold the ball up. Both keepers had just the one routine save each in a game that was a stalemate well before the final whistle.
There was one final drama though, at least if you happen to be me! Deep into injury time the referee made an error, and both benches immediately looked to the assessor sat at the back of the stand. It took a few seconds to recognise him; it was former EFL referee Steve Phipps, a man who used to referee higher-profile North Berkshire League games that needed a strong character in charge. Sadly his days with the whistle are now over, but it was good to catch up with him after the match.
It also helped Che and I to avoid some of the queuing to get out of the ground, there are only so many places you can climb down to car park level! But however lousy the game was there was and is a bigger picture here. It is of course that after 13 long years Gloucester City are home, and can finally plan with certainty for the future.