My trip to Twerton Park for this clash between Bath City and Weymouth is going to have to be a bit shorter than usual. I have some writing duties elsewhere occupying the majority of my time, so this one will be brief.
Fifth-placed Bath hosted the fourth-placed Terras in this non-league encounter between two teams I’m very familiar with. You see, I grew up 15 minutes away from Weymouth. I went to school in Weymouth. I’ve been to a bunch of games there, and a few times I even sat in the chairman’s box as a kid.
But I absolutely detest Weymouth.
After I finished school, I worked my first full-time job in the town centre. I like to think I saw every type of personality the human species has to offer in the popular seaside town. I don’t mean that in a positive way. Weymouth is the worst.
As a result, I never felt much affinity towards Weymouth FC. I leaned towards Dorchester Town when it came to my local clubs. Perhaps I have a thing for teams in black and white stripes. But when Weymouth got promoted to the same league as Bath, my current local team, it was instantly one of the fixtures I wanted to attend.
The visitors traveled well, bringing a sizable group with them – the train from Weymouth is only two hours away. It helped Bath achieve their highest attendance of the season, with 1,902 fans making the effort to watch this battle between the playoff contenders.
The game itself was a tight affair with limited opportunities in front of goal. Bath came closest in the second half when substitute Ryan Brunt headed a cross onto the post, and was off balance in his attempt to put home the rebound. The City defence were impressive in limiting the Weymouth attack to a few pot-shots from range, never worrying 17-year-old goalkeeper Harvey Wiles-Richards, making his home debut.
City were depleted with injuries but performed admirably against an organised Weymouth side. Things got worse for Bath when fullback Joe Raynes was stretchered off with a broken ankle in the second half. Already missing a host of key players, Raynes’ absence will be felt heavily; he is one of City’s most important and talented players.
The final score ended 0-0, with both sides seemingly content to keep a clean sheet. It was a fair result in the end.
A brisk Saturday in mid-January saw us return to the fortress Twerton Park once again. Second placed Bath City were hosting Hemel Hempstead, ninth in the Vanarama National League South. The visitors from Hertfordshire were victorious in the reverse fixture, a 2-1 loss for the Romans in late September.
However, that result was firmly in the past. Unbeaten at home since August, Jerry Gill’s side began the day in confident style. With the winter sun on our backs as we entered the ground, our group were feeling similarly positive about Bath’s fortunes.
I took special care to stop by the programme hut for this game, as I had discovered earlier in the week I would be featured in this matchday’s edition. Adam Matravers, City’s programme editor, had kindly contacted me about my experience away at Chippenham and asked to include it in the programme for the visit of Hemel Hempstead. There was no hesitation on my part, and I was eager to pick up my copy once we arrived. Thanks again Adam!
With my programme safely stored in my pocket (and one for Camila too, who couldn’t join us), we found our customary spot close to the halfway line. Caleb and I were in attendance as usual but we brought friends too; Caleb had his son and mate Jack with him, whereas I had Jamie with me. Jamie and I had been to watch City over a decade ago, when the Romans enjoyed their memorable promotion run.
Caleb’s son was excited for another afternoon watching his local side, and had brought his pocket money to buy a programme. He was chuffed to bits to be included inside. He had borrowed his Dad’s scarf for the afternoon as well, and looked like a true Roman. Add one more to the permanent fixtures at Twerton Park; we’ve created a new lifelong supporter.
Wrapped in our hats and scarves to fight the cold, we settled down for the first half. Ryan Clarke, in his short sleeved shirt, must have been feeling the winter chill though. The captain narrowly avoided disaster in the opening seconds, when he let a bouncing ball slip through his arms and out his backside. Clarke will be buying Alex Hartridge dinner all week thanks to the defender’s quick reactions. The centre back on loan from Exeter City saved his goalkeeper from humiliation, as Hartridge instinctively got to the ball just in time to clear the danger, with a Hemel Hempstead striker breathing down his neck.
With that crisis averted, City began to assert themselves, and thought they were ahead after 25 minutes. A free kick to the far post was nodded back into the fray by Hartridge, and Frankie Artus was there to beat the keeper with a strong header. The referee (correctly) spotted Artus had pushed his defender in the back before scoring, and the goal was ruled out. It felt unjust at the time, as City have had a few goals ruled out by the officials recently, but it was right decision.
At half time Caleb and son took a quick stroll to check out some of the club’s merchandise. An upgrade was definitely in order and Caleb had been eyeing this season’s purple scarves for months. It was no surprise when the pair returned minutes later with a new scarf andnew hat, with smiles as wide as Caleb’s overdraft balance.
100% worth it.
In the second half Bath upped their efforts and really began to take control. In the 56th minute they thought they had the lead again, only for the referee to disagree once more. It was almost a carbon copy of the previously disallowed goal: another free kick into the box was nodded back to Artus who poked the ball into the back of the net. This time it was Ryan Brunt who was judged to have pushed his defender in the back, cancelling out Artus’ effort for the second time.
The chances for Bath kept coming, with midfielder Tom Smith pushing the attack in particular. An audacious effort from inside his own half flew harmlessly wide for a goal kick, but Hemel Hempstead goalie Sam Beasant tried to add to Smith’s embarassment with a comedy dive in the ball’s direction. It was a curious decision from the goalkeeper, and decidedly unfunny.
Beasant wasn’t laughing five minutes later.
Substitute winger Ross Stearn made an instant impact when he was hauled down on the edge of the Hemel Hempstead box. As the Bath players convened over the set piece, our group reminisced over Smith’s unforgettable strike we’d recently witnessed on New Year’s Day in Chippenham. “Could he do it again?”
The answer was yes. Yes he fucking could.
Smith spied a gap in the opposition wall and blasted the ball through the hole, up into the roof of the net, past the helpless Beasant. Nothing could deny that ball. The power was too much, it was hit too sweet, and Smith knew it instantly. He wheeled away towards the home support and was mobbed by his jubilant teammates. Bath finally had their deserved 1-0 lead.
The pain for Beasant wasn’t over yet. With just over five minutes remaining and Bath looking to kill the game, an attempted clearance from the visiting ‘keeper was sliced straight into the path of Stearn. With no defenders nearby and an open path to goal before him, Stearn set himself before curling a low effort past Beasant to secure the result and all three points. Cue more celebrations from us and the Bath faithful, safe in the knowledge that victory was ours.
Brunt had a last minute opportunity to make it 3-0 after some fine link-up play with Joe Raynes but was unlucky to see his shot wide of the mark.
The referee brought the game to a close and Bath could be satisfied with another stellar performance. Two goals and a clean sheet continue City’s upward trajectory, in what’s shaping up to be another impressive season. Their next game is a visit to league leaders Wealdstone, and City will be looking to close the gap at the top of the table.
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!