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Tuesday 8th February 2023 ko 19:30

Western League Division One



Att 35

Entry £6

Programme £2

Perhaps the measure of what differentiates a genuine groundhopper from a general football fan is the Dorset town of Gillingham. My feeling is that a football fan will look at the name as immediately assume its pronounced with a soft “G” as in the EFL club of the same name, whereas the groundhopper sees the name “Gillingham” and wonders which county we’re in? Since this is Dorset, the “G” is hard, so the Gill is what fish have, not the girl’s name! Hope we’re clear on that one!

Of course those in the know are aware that Gillingham have moved a couple of hundred yards from their old ground Harding’s Lane. It means that wonderful stand, a relic of an agricultural show, with the seats once destined for Dundee United has been lost, but the club do have a Western League compliant ground. I did try for Woodwater Lane last July, arriving just as the game had been switched back to the old ground as the new pitch wasn’t quite ready. I ended up seeing the last game at Hardings Lane but did leave with the feeling that Woodwater Lane was going to be a difficult one to get ticked off.

It didn’t help that Gillingham is right at the extremes of what I can reach in 2 hours from a 5:30pm start in Oxford. For once the traffic behaved, even at Stonehenge, but I couldn’t help but notice the temperature was dropping alarmingly and was well below freezing as I arrived 5 minutes before kick-off. 

The pitch was already whitening so I was pleased to see the referee walking out to start the game…. and then the lights went out! I’m not sure why they tripped out, but we were fortunate that the lights are of the new LED type and so could be switched back on quickly, as it was obvious any significant delay would see the pitch freeze. Even so a slight issue saw one light take a little longer, and that turned a 7:30 kick-off into a 7:45; I’m bound to say I thought we could have got by with just the 3 lights. 

It did give time to consider my surroundings. While Woodwater Lane lacks the character of its predecessor, and I’d recommend re-siting the seating stand, the sightlines aren’t ideal looking right, the new ground is a marked improvement on the old. Here is a clubhouse area,  cover behind a goal and a refreshments hut, none of which featured previously. More importantly the ground is enclosed, and I suspect that was the big issue previously. The club did drop out of the Western League when the development was delayed. 

History will state that the game was completed, mainly due the players’ studs keeping the pitch pliable, with Bishops Lydeard giving their survival hopes a real filip with this victory. As my frozen feet manipulated the car’s pedals as I exited along Hardings Lane, it was good to see the friendly Gills with a home they can work with.