Posted by sean on August 10, 2014 at 9:00 pm in Bath City, Ventures Outside Of Bath with No Comments

Yesterday was first day of the 2014/15 football season. While each club’s fixtures are supposed to be random, apart from pairing local sides together over the Christmas and New Year period, Bath City’s opening game has been an away tie for the last six years. This season was no different, with a trip to Concord Rangers being dished out as the opening match of the campaign. Oh well, these games have to be played at some point across the year and August is one of the best months on the calendar to make long trips across the country.

A few years ago, I would have never missed an away game. I would be the first name on the supporters’ coach. Nowadays, for a number of reasons, my trips are a little more limited. One of these is financial. As with everything in life, the cost of travelling away has increased considerably, despite the coach company offering very generous rates. Then there is the excitement element. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bath City, but after experiencing trips to the likes of Luton Town, Wrexham and York City in the Conference Premier years, journeys to Chelmsford and Boreham Wood are hardly awe-inspiring.

With the weather being nice, the fact I had never visited Thames Road, the home of Concord Rangers, and it had been four months since I had watched a live game of football, I decided to make the very long trip to Canvey Island, deep into the county of Essex.

The season’s drama started before a ball had even been kicked. During the long, familiar trip along the M4, from Bath to Essex, water appeared on the roof of the coach. ‘Fair enough’, you may think; ‘it’s been wet lately, what’s the problem?’ You would be correct to ask that, except for the fact the water was INSIDE the coach. After watching many people getting wet and hear them repeatedly joke about having a free shower, it was established that the air conditioning was buggered. On hindsight, the coach should have performed a U-turn on the motorway and driven home. This would have saved us all a lot of money, time and heartache. Sadly, it didn’t. We continued to South Mimms motorway service station, where Phil Weaver, a club director and a man who seems to fix everything that breaks at Twerton Park, climbed on top of the coach to move what looked like gallons of water from inside the coach, onto the floor of the car park.

While waiting at the service station for the coach to be repaired, I browsed the literature on offer. Let’s just say, you would have to hunt very hard to find the works of Shakespeare. Why do all services sell shit books?

With the dripping stopped, the sodden coach continued towards Essex. Canvey Island is a strange place. We seemed to drive for miles through a countryside which, along with green planes, was dotted with factories and industrial estates.

We arrived at the ground with lots of time to spare before kick-off. I was hoping that the club house would have BT Sport, which was broadcasting Bristol Rovers’ first non-league game, against Grimsby. Alas, they only had Sky, and as the fixture against Sheffield United and Bristol City didn’t interest me in the slightest, I waited outside, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere with the hordes of fans… all 12 of them.

What did I do while waiting for kick off? I ate my way through a very reasonably priced portion of chips, which, as far as non-league chips go, were amazing. As a rule, I don’t buy food from football grounds, as it’s generally shit. In this case, I was impressed. If anyone from Concord Rangers Football Club is reading my blog, send my compliments to the chef.

I then admired the ground. While it wasn’t pretty, with a caravan park at one end, a gasworks at another and a sewage refinery behind one of the goals, Thames Road was a proper non-league ground – none of this flat-packed, all-seater stadium, sterile-atmosphere shite. It was also a real non-league football club, with many volunteers hard at work, whether it be building a roof for a terrace (literally 30 minutes before kick-off), frying burgers or selling match-day programmes.

3pm came and the game kicked off (OK, if you’re being fussy, four minutes late at 15:04). That is when things went bad. The only positive I can remember is Chris Allen shooting just over the crossbar. The rest wasn’t good and wasn’t pretty. Things weren’t great off the pitch, either. With just 10 minutes gone, one supporter muttered something along the lines of sacking the management. Jesus wept. I know the management team of Adie Britton and Lee Howells aren’t popular with some fans, but give them a bloody chance, especially after the Meet the Manager evening less than a week ago, where those who attended left feeling positive and united.

I’m certainly not saying don’t moan after a poor performance. Yesterday was bad and I wasn’t happy, but don’t boo or abuse the players. They know more than anyone that they’ve under-performed. They’re a great set of players. Probably Bath City’s strongest squad since 2010. You won’t see many more performances like yesterday this season.

I just wish that all this negative energy could be channelled into something positive. Despite our different views, every single Bath City fan wants the same thing – for the football club to succeed on and off the pitch. I don’t think berating the players helps. It has never helped in the past, so why do fans feel the need to do it?

As I watched the game, I was distracted by what was going on off the pitch. Along with the US style trailer park (do people seriously holiday there?) was a dockyard. A huge cargo ship kept moving up and down, very slowly. It got me thinking, what other vehicles have I seen while watching football? There is Stansted Airport right next to Bishops Stortford, a railway line ajecent to Maidenhead United and a motorway by Walsall (a busy road by Histon too). I’m yet to watch football by a Speedway track or see an Army tank behind a terrace, but I can live in hope.

Back to the match, 1-0 became 3-0, after two penalties were awarded in the second half – one rather dubious, one cast iron. At full time, I made an immediate return to the coach. I don’t like hanging around after a heavy defeat, for a number of reasons.

The journey home was long and hot. To make matters worse, a group of fans , who have supported the club since its formation 125 years ago, dissected the match – remember also that the air conditioning was broken. Sigh. I wished I was dead.

The only comfort I found on the return journey was at Reading services. They now have a Greggs bakery. Given the fact it was late in the day, only a few remnants were left from the days pastry selection. Still, when you’ve been out the house for over 12 hours, haven’t eaten properly and are starving, a dried-out bacon and cheese wrap tastes as good as anything even the world’s top chefs can produce.

I arrived home some two hours later. Exhausted, I went to bed. I was hardly going to stay up for The Football League Show, given the Leeds result…

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