You know the football season is well under way when September draws to a close and the calendar turns to October. Those sunlit afternoons soon become a distant memory, as the cold and the rain begin to rear their familiar heads. Before you know it, darkness has consumed you by half time and you can no longer feel your toes.
Thankfully on Saturday the 29th September, the chill of October had yet to reach us, and for one more day it felt like summer. For Bath City FC, those final rays of sun bathed the luscious green turf of Twerton Park on their Community Day, the one day of the season the club expects to draw their largest crowd, largely thanks to their unique ‘Pay What You Want’ scheme. It does exactly what it says on the tin; you pay whatever amount you like for admission.
In the build-up to this fixture the club had done a fantastic job spreading the news, with posters all over the city advertising the day and all it’s events.
When I arrived outside the ground with half an hour to spare before kickoff, I could certainly tell that the Community Day spirit had gripped the city. There were visible queues for the turnstiles, something I rarely see on my visits to watch City. Leading up to the queues were a number of stalls from local businesses, including pop-up food and drink stands, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in the sunshine.
I waited for Matt, my Tranmere-supporting friend, who happened to be down south this weekend and kindly accompanied me to the game. Matt had been to Twerton Park before, a couple of years ago for a game against Truro, but we had never visited together. We’ve recently booked a mini Bundesliga tour and we fly to Germany later this month, so there are a few more games together in our near future (and I will be writing about it all, so watch this space).
I paid at the turnstile, purchased my programme, and found my customary spot on the terrace, close to the half way line, and applauded the players onto the pitch as they emerged from the tunnel. It was 5th placed Bath versus 4th placed Welling United, an organised outfit that had made the trip along the M4 from London. The home side entered the afternoon on a four-game winning streak at Twerton Park so confidence was high as the referee blew his whistle to begin proceedings.
However, right from the start it was clear that Bath were going to have their hands full with a very disciplined Welling team. The visitors burst into life in the opening stages and City ‘keeper Ryan Clarke had to be alert to deny them an opening goal.
As the game progressed it became evident that Welling were very effective in pressing Bath, consistently disrupting the hosts and preventing them from gaining any sort of rhythm in possession. I had last seen City in mid-August, when they were almost faultless in a rout of Gloucester, but on this day they weren’t given an inch, and their attacks regularly stuttered into nothing.
Welling were content to sit back and burst forward on the counter, and the strategy paid off in the 25th minute. Hesitation between the Bath defence and Clarke in goal allowed Welling winger Gavin McCallum to nip in and delicately lift the ball over Clarke to give the London side an early and deserved lead.
In an effort to respond, City centre back Jack Batten had a fine header saved and Adam Mann made a burst down the left wing before firing a fierce shot over the bar. Unfortunately that was all the home side could muster and despite growing in confidence, City were unable to create any more clear-cut chances before half time.
In the second half Bath faced the same defensive press yet again and really struggled to create anything truly threatening. Their best opportunity to get something from the game came late on, with about ten minutes left. Centre back Batten burst out of defence and carried the ball through the Welling midfield, before playing a perfect through ball into the path of substitute forward John Mills. Sadly Mills struggled to get the ball out of his feet and his delay on the shot allowed the Welling defence to close him down and cut out the danger. The City crowd groaned in frustration, as it was the closest the home side had come all afternoon.
Only a minute later the result was put to bed when confusion in the City defence allowed a Welling cross to go almost unnoticed, and Danny Mills was on hand to poke the ball home to kill off the game, 2-0. It was the same sort of defensive lapse that allowed the first goal to be conceded, and something Bath manager Jerry Gill will be disappointed to see occur twice.
Despite the result, the 1,585 fans in attendance set a new record for Bath’s Community Day, and it was the most attended game at Twerton Park in over seven years. With the club just announcing a loss of approximately £137,000 for the year 2017/18, they will be keen to retain as many new fans, and old, as they progress further towards their goal of self-sustainment and the redevelopment of Twerton Park.
City fans should not be discouraged though, as Gill’s side have made a fine start to the season. With young talents like right back and Man of the Match Joe Raynes impressing on a weekly basis, things are looking up for the Romans.