For me, it feels like the 2018/19 season ended a long time ago. Even with a football-filled summer (Women’s World Cup, Gold Cup, AFCON, Copa America and more), this break has felt especially lengthy for some reason.
It felt good to recharge the batteries and enjoy the hiatus, but here we are in mid-July and we’re back again, checking the fixture lists and making our plans for the new season ahead.
With these beautiful July evenings comes preseason football and my local club Bath City FC have been busy preparing for another campaign in the Vanarama National League South division.
Tuesday night’s fixture welcomed neighbouring League One side Bristol Rovers to Twerton Park, a ground the Pirates used to call home between 1986 – 1996. A large contingent of Rovers fans made the short trip to Bath for the game, so there were plenty of blue and white shirts on display supporting the visitors. I’ll admit, I’ve always quite admired the Rovers home shirt design, their distinctive quartered appearance. The total attendance on the night was 1,102, which is seriously impressive for a preseason fixture – Bath will be overjoyed if they can regularly log attendances in the four-digit range this year. By comparison, the Exeter City friendly last week attracted 367 fans, so the local link with Bristol really had an impact.
Prior to kickoff, Caleb, Camila and I (your regular City fan group on this blog) journeyed to nearby Moorland Road for some pre-match dinner, courtesy of the excellent Magu Diner. Their amazing burgers are definitely worth seeking out if you find yourself in the city – on this occasion I opted for the Southern Fried Buttermilk Chicken Burger and it was exceptional, altogether a top-quality meal enjoyed with my pals in the sunshine.
Soon after finishing our food we entered through the turnstiles at Twerton Park, just as the game was getting underway (still feeling full from my burger). In the opening minutes we focused on Jerry Gill’s new additions to his City side, the new recruits brought in to replace the holes left by the recently departed Robbie Cundy, Anthony Straker, Sean Rigg, and Kevin Amankwaah (plus the loanees like Freddie Hinds who returned to their parent clubs).
Right away I was struck by Matt Bower, Bath’s new 6’5” centre half signed from Cheltenham Town on a free transfer. Not only did the towering Bower catch the eye with his size, but his speed and technique with the ball were remarkable for a player of his build. Bower had no issues turning away from the opposition and always remained calm in possession, showing maturity and poise beyond his 20 years-of-age. Overall, it was a classy performance from the youngster and he looks to be a very astute signing (he was voted Man of the Match). It should be fun to watch Bower progress this year and develop with the team.
Tyler Harvey also stood out, and the new striker showed flashes of his ability throughout the game. Harvey signed from Truro City on a free transfer and enjoyed a prolific 2018/19 campaign, scoring 23 goals for the Cornish side, so he’ll be looking to continue that fine form for his new team. The 24 year-old is a familiar face to City fans, twice featuring for the Romans on separate loan stints between 2016 – 2017, and is famously remembered for one of the most dramatic injury-time winning goals you’ll ever see.
Harvey led the attack against Bristol and was unlucky to be denied a goal, when an 11th minute strike was unfortunately ruled offside. Harvey also struck the post twice, once in each half, with free kicks that looked destined to go in. He should be one to watch at set-pieces once the season begins in earnest.
There were other notable players we were seeing for the first time; Connor Riley-Lowe looked adept at left back, another Truro City recruit, as did 21 year-old midfielder Jordan Simpson, acquired from Forest Green Rovers, who imposed himself when he was substituted on midway through the second half.
Ultimately, Bristol Rovers had enough quality over ninety minutes to earn the win, scoring a goal in each half to secure their 2-0 victory. However, Bath looked the more composed and organised side for much of the game and can hold their heads high against their higher opposition. The City players and staff will be disappointed not to have gotten on the scoresheet but there were many positives to take away from the evening.
Despite the defeat we came away impressed with how the new additions acclimatised to their new surroundings, and Jerry Gill’s squad already look sharp ahead of the new season.
The three of us can’t wait to get back to Twerton Park already.