In what is likely to be my last game of 2018, this dark Tuesday evening in December took me to the home of Bath City FC, as they faced off against promotion-chasing Billericay Town under the lights in a Vanarama National League South clash.
This fixture was originally scheduled back in October and I was set to miss out, as I would have been in Germany at the time on my Bundesliga adventure. Thankfully for me, Billericay’s FA Cup exploits caused the game to be rearranged for a date I could make, and so it was I found myself leaving the city centre of Bath after work and making my way towards the floodlit Twerton Park.
My companions for the evening were Caleb, of recent football trips, and Camila, a fledgling City fan from Colombia who possesses more knowledge and enthusiasm for the club than both Caleb and I combined. She had been to a game already this season, when a group of us attended Bath’s 3-0 demolition of Gloucester City in mid August. Our trio for the night grabbed a bite to eat in town and set off for the 25 minute walk to the ground.
Upon arrival Camila, warm in her new City scarf that Caleb and I had purchased for her birthday, made a turn towards the programme hut and picked one up for the very reasonable price of £2.50.
The match kicked off just as we settled into our spot on the terrace. Bath began the evening hovering on the edge of the playoff places whereas Billericay sat in third place, with eyes on automatic promotion this season. However, the club are in the midst of some unsettlement, as a host of internal issues have resulted in players leaving, including top scorer Jake Robinson. Even the ownership of the club has been questioned, with reports indicating that money-man Glenn Tamplin may be pulling the plug on the Essex club.
With all that unrest in the air, perhaps Bath could smell blood in the water, as they got off to a fast start, pressuring the visitors right from the first whistle.
In the 9th minute, the hosts made their early dominance count, when a goalmouth scramble saw the ball fall to Bath winger Ross Stearn, who fired home at the back post to put City in the lead 1-0. It was a deserved effort and the City fans roared with appreciation as Stearn celebrated with his teammates.
Billericay did not let the setback affect them for long and within five minutes they drew level. A swift attack into the Bath half saw an expert through ball split the City defence, putting Billericay striker Moses Emmanuel in the clear. The forward never hesitated and poked the ball past City keeper Ryan Clarke to make it 1-1.
The rest of the half was relatively even, with both sides going close. Billericay struck the outside of the post from a free kick and an audacious effort from City’s Adam Mann silenced the crowd between the ball being struck and the resulting crash off the crossbar.
As the first 45 minutes drew to a close, we had some fun when an entertaining Billericay fan behind their goal took significant offence when City centre back Jack Batten needed treatment for an injury. “YOU CHEAT! YOU FUCKIN’ CHEAT!” this man bellowed at Batten, repeatedly, with every effort he could muster. I found it very interesting that this gentleman had travelled the considerable distance from Essex, just to berate a 22 year-old who looked to be in genuine pain, flat on his back upon the cold turf. He kept up his tirade of abuse for some time, until Batten got back to his feet, and the only conclusion I could draw was this man is in dire need of a holiday, or a new hobby perhaps.
Despite the score being level at half time it was the hosts who had enjoyed the majority of possession and looked more dangerous, and I was still optimistic Bath could spring an upset on the night.
Billericay must have taken note and began the second half on the front foot, forcing Bath keeper Clarke into some fine saves, including one acrobatic dive to his right to deny a certain goal. The away fans behind their goal had unfurled a giant blue flag in support of their side, and credit must go to those who had travelled so far on a Tuesday night two weeks before Christmas.
Bath came back into the game and City striker Ryan Brunt had a fine header saved. Before long though, Billericay struck again. In the 71st minute midfielder Sam Deering appeared to be of little threat on the wing but his whipped cross inadvertently evaded both defence and attack, and bounced off the turf past the stranded Clarke and into the net to give the visitors a fortuitous 2-1 lead.
It felt unfair on Bath, who had done well to regain a foothold in the match, only to see the result slip away. The home side spent their remaining minutes forcing the attack but they could not break through Billericay’s stubborn and organised defence. Our patience with the referee began to wear thin, as he consistently disturbed the flow of the game instead of playing advantage when it seemed the more likely option. Camila in particular felt aggrieved, and regularly unleashed a flurry of Spanish in the referee’s general direction.
In the dying minutes Bath had a string of corners that saw Bristol-born goalkeeper Clarke join the fray, and the vocal home support around us rose to the occasion, urging their side to find a goal. Despite the intense pressure, Billericay held firm and were ultimately deserved winners.
I felt Bath had shown enough quality during the night that the scoreline could have easily gone in their favour but it wasn’t to be. Caleb, Camila and I still enjoyed our evening though, and applauded the City boys off the pitch, as Jerry Gill’s squad certainly hadn’t lacked for effort.
The three of us have already scheduled another trip in the new year, and I’m looking forward to returning to Twerton Park already.