We were walking away from Hardenhuish Park, home to Chippenham Town, and Caleb’s 6-year-old son looked to me and said, “Ash, how many football games have you seen?”
I paused and realised, I am finally reaching the stage where I’m losing count. Not that I keep count, not really. But I’ve seen so many football matches in recent years that I couldn’t provide an acceptable answer.
Despite seeing so many games, this visit to Chippenham Town was a first. As a group, we had yet to venture away from the comfy confines of Twerton Park to follow the Romans on the road. This New Year’s Day trip to Chippenham was a perfect opportunity to make amends. What better way to ring in the new year than a day at the football?
I had a horrid cold as we boarded the train but was determined to put it behind me. Camila made the trip immediately better when she presented Caleb and I with our Christmas gifts: for the two Gooners, she baked us Arsenal gingerbread men. Vintage 03/04 Ljungberg for me please.
The train journey from Bath to Chippenham is short, roughly 10 minutes, and we quickly found ourselves walking the path towards the ground of City’s local rivals. A charming little ground that celebrated it’s 100th anniversary last year, the 3,000 capacity home to the Bluebirds can be found in a leafy and welcoming part of the town.
As Camila and I strolled through the main stand I noticed Simon Howe on the pitch, Bath City’s club photographer. Just as I caught sight of him, he was aiming his lens right at us. I wasn’t sure at the time but had a feeling we’d been given the celebrity treatment.
We completed our lap before finding our spot for the first half and overall it was a relaxed atmosphere as we settled in. The first thing I noticed was the incline of the pitch – Bath faced an uphill battle in more ways than one. The visitors were wise to choose the difficult option for the first half and could attack downhill for the final 45 minutes.
The match soon got underway and City instantly established control of the game and kept possession well. Within 10 minutes the visitors should have gone ahead when Ryan Brunt headed home at the back post. The veteran striker wheeled away in celebration but the referee adjudged there to be foul play and unfairly ruled the goal out.
Brunt had the opportunity thanks to an excellent cross from Joe Raynes, and the young right back was everywhere in the opening half. We had a front row seat on the right wing to witness his marauding runs and he was unlucky not to open the scoring himself shortly after half an hour of play. Tom Smith found Raynes in the box and he put his defender on the ground with a neat Ronaldo-chop, shifting the ball onto his left foot in the process. With a chance to shoot at goal, sadly his shot curled just over the bar.
Half time was almost upon us but Chippenham were starting to find their feet. A clearance was headed back towards the Bath goal and managed to evade everyone to find Chippenham striker Chris Zebroski. The forward kept his composure and made no mistake putting the ball past Ryan Clarke to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
The goal came as a shock, totally against the run of play, but to our relief Bath replied instantly. With injury time about to expire, a cross from the right (again) found the head of Adam Mann, whose neat flick behind him met the patient Brunt. The big man simply had to tap into an empty net. This time there was no referee interference, it counted, and the score was tied at 1-1. The travelling support behind the goal were singing Brunt’s praises and City deserved to be back in the game.
For the second half we moved downfield to be closer to the goal Bath would be attacking. It proved to be the right decision as City were utterly relentless from the moment the game got back underway.
We were stationed close to the away bench and could hear Jerry Gill and Jim Rollo barking their instructions to their team with perfect clarity. It was fascinating to listen to their reactions and feedback as the the match wore on.
It was amazing we could hear anything they were saying, such was the level of noise coming from the away support. I had never heard the City faithful in such high spirits, with song after song being bellowed from behind the goal. The poor Chippenham keeper had a rough time of it all afternoon, tormented by the travelling fans for the smallest of things. The man couldn’t even drink from his water bottle without being heckled.
City’s dominance on the pitch soon paid off. With just over 20 minutes left in the game Mann collected the ball in his half and took off, running at the retreating Chippenham defenders. They had to haul him down to avert the danger but the free kick opportunity from 30 yards was too tantalising for Tom Smith to turn down.
As Smith and Noah Chilvers stood over the ball, I addressed the group. “Guys,” I said, “this one is going in, top corner.” No one was listening, all eyes glued to the ball as the set piece began. Chilvers rolled the ball to the side ever so slightly and Smith connected perfectly. The Chippenham keeper stood no chance and the ball flew past him into the top right corner, just as I’d proclaimed moments before. We celebrated wildly, Caleb’s son just about staying on his Dad’s shoulders. It has to be one of the best goals I’ve ever seen a Bath City player score, a real peach.
Still in shock from the goal (and my newfound psychic abilities), it wasn’t long before City had the chance to put the result beyond doubt, when they were awarded a penalty after some nifty footwork from Ross Stearn. Smith put the ball down on the spot to add to his tally but was unfortunate to see his effort saved. To his credit, the Chippenham keeper did really well to palm Smith’s effort away. Despite the penalty miss, Smith still deserved my Man of the Match award for his overall performance. He ran the show and everything positive went through him.
With the final whistle approaching, Chippenham were dead on their feet and Bath finally put them out of their misery. Once again the neat play came down the right flank and Smith crossed a dangerous ball into Bristol City loanee Louis Britton. The young striker controlled the bouncing ball on his chest in the six-yard box, before connecting on a vicious volley to make it 3-1. It was an acrobatic finish for Britton, a memorable goal to open his account for his new club.
Gill and Rollo raced past us on the touchline when the ball crashed into the net, with Rollo rolling back the years with an acrobatic move of his own in celebration. The two then embraced, safe in the knowledge that their team had secured all the points, lifting Bath up to second in the league.
We stayed a while to celebrate at the final whistle, applauding the team off the pitch. We all agreed it had been one of the best City games we’d experienced, and well worth the 10 minute journey east of Bath.
Here’s to more away days with the Romans in 2020 and beyond!