In 2018 I attended more football games in a calendar year than I ever had before. Between January and December I saw 12 matches across multiple levels of the football ladder, including 3 games in a different country.
If I’m cheeky I can count 13 games in total, if I decide to include the late December 2017 clash between Plymouth and Oldham that I typed up in January to kick start this blog.
I am that cheeky, so I’m counting it.
So with 2019 now upon us, what better way to start the new year than with a football match. Start as you mean to go on is the saying, right?
Bath City FC were hosting local rivals Chippenham Town in a New Year’s Day derby in the Vanarama National League South. The visitors only had a short trip along the A4 to attend this game and had faced Bath just a few days before, in a tightly contested 2-2 draw on Boxing Day.
I met up with Caleb before the game for a quick drink and a post-Christmas catch up, before we set off for Twerton Park. We arrived with half an hour to spare, which is pretty early for us, and there were already decent queues forming at the turnstiles. Looking around the ground as we found our spot on the terrace, we knew straight away a very large Bank Holiday crowd was in attendance.
We could tell the attendance was far higher than normal for one reason in particular: Caleb pointed out there were people sat in the “weird” stand. This small seated and roof-covered stand we refer to as being “weird” is named so because we never, ever, see people sat there. It’s like the little brother in comparison to the main grandstand that resides next to it, and perhaps unfairly designated as “weird.” Yet, on this day with a higher than normal crowd in attendance, the stand was home to a great number of fans. In fact, it turned out that City had actually set a new record, with 1,727 fans deciding to celebrate the new year watching their local side.
One fan at the game had made a special effort to be there, travelling over 4,000 miles to visit Bath and watch his adopted team for the first time at Twerton Park. Jesse Stollings, a teacher from North Carolina, fell in love with the club through Football Manager and a Christmas trip devised by his wife found them both at the game to see City in person. Manager Jerry Gill even invited them to meet the squad and share a pre-match meal, as the club rolled out the red carpet for their visit.
And what a game they witnessed.
City lined up against Chippenham in a 3-5-2 formation I hadn’t seen them adopt before, but had worked wonders just three days prior in a 2-0 win at Weston-super-Mare. A back three of Kevin Amankwaah, Robbie Cundy and Jack Batten were flanked by the dynamic loanee Michee Efete on the right and captain Anthony Straker on the left. A midfield trio of longtime City lad Frankie Artus, local youngster Joe Raynes, and Bristol City-loanee James Morton provided a base to support the attack of Adam Mann and Ross Stearn. Traditionally wide men, Mann and Stearn would both come in off the flanks to attack the Chippenham defence more centrally than Caleb and I were used to seeing in the past.
To say Jerry Gill’s plan worked to perfection would be an understatement. The performance we enjoyed was like the non-league equivalent of 2011 Barcelona at the peak of their powers.
Right from the first whistle Bath harried and pressed the Chippenham players into a frenzy, and played at such a speed that the visitors found it impossible to settle. It was like they were moving in slow motion, and maybe a few of them had celebrated New Year’s Eve with more enthusiasm than their Bath counterparts.
After 18 minutes City’s pressure was rewarded. Efete, who was enjoying massive amounts of space down the right wing, took the ball on a mazy run into the penalty area that saw him brought down. The referee didn’t hesitate and blew his whistle to signal for the spot kick. Bath skipper Straker, cool as could be, stepped up to put the hosts 1-0 ahead.
Just four minutes later Efete was on the attack again and saw a blocked shot fall into the path of Stearn, who had slipped behind his marker to lash the ball home and give Bath an early 2-0 lead.
Bath’s domination was now getting out of hand, and Stearn was quick to collect his brace in the 28th minute. After some neat build-up in attack, Raynes decided to have a shot from distance that swerved into more of a pass, and found an unmarked Stearn free from his defender yet again. The winger masquerading as a striker for the day had the easy task of tapping the ball in to put City up 3-0. Stearn was consistently finding himself in the right place at the right time and the Chippenham defenders couldn’t live with him.
Five minutes later Robbie Cundy decided to join in on the fun, and left his position at centre back to move forward in attack. Cundy collected a pass from his captain Straker and hit a sweet shot just inside the penalty area to send the fans delirious. It was certainly not the sort of strike you expect from a defender, and Caleb and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing, with the score at 4-0 and with ten minutes still left to play in the first half.
City almost made it 5-0 before the break when Mann collected a beautiful pass from Artus down the left wing, rounded the onrushing keeper, but put his shot just inches wide of the post. It was a swift move that deserved a goal, and earned our applause.
When the referee blew his whistle for half time, the City players were sent down the tunnel by the most immense roar from the crowd, in appreciation of what we had all just seen and the precious three points already secured. The Chippenham players on the other hand looked like they were ready to call it quits then and there, and not be subjected to another 45 minutes of torture.
The second half began with the visitors making two substitutions to try and stop the flood and avoid being continuously overrun but it was to no avail, and Bath soon struck for the fifth and final time.
In the 54th minute Mann, cruelly denied a goal earlier, linked up with his fellow forward Stearn and was put through on goal. Mann cut across his defender to put him one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and as he rushed out to meet Mann the Bath forward calmly chipped the ball with a delightful dink over the keeper and into the empty net. Mann never stopped pressing and harassing Chippenham players all afternoon and the goal was his reward for a tireless performance.
The 5-0 scoreline reflected the five star show City had put on for us. Chippenham stopped the bleeding after the fifth goal and even went close to a consolation once or twice, but when the referee ended the game it felt like mercy for the visitors. They had been thoroughly demolished and stretched all over the wide turf of Twerton Park.
It was quite convincingly the best game I’ve ever witnessed Bath City play, and the most amazing way to begin 2019. With the victory, Bath shot up the table into 5th place, right into the thick of the playoff race, a position they will hope to still possess in a few month’s time I’m sure.
Jerry Gill and his squad will look to build on this performance and maintain their recent run of form long into 2019. I’m certain I will be back again soon, and I hope more of the 1,727 in attendance feel the same way.