Chippenham Town vs Bath City FC

Away Day Victory For City Boys

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.

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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.

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Camila and I caught on camera

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Bath City FC vs Chippenham Town

Romans Rampant in 5-0 Rout of Local Rivals

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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