Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Banbury United v Winchester City

A jolly Puritan adorning Banbury United's corner flag. Don't be fooled by that welcoming smile, ye olde erectors of crosses, he's really a smiling assassin.
I don't know about you, but I'm always singing to myself. It could be anything - a current chart sensation, an oldie but goldie from the glam era, or an obscure punk B-side. There's usually a tune going on inside me somewhere. Right now? Today's happy tune is Days by The Kinks, a big hit in 1968 - you'll know it if you hear it.

My "tune" through much of last week was actually an old nursery rhyme - again, you'll probably know it:

Ride a cock horse
To Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady
Upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers
And bells on her toes
She shall have music
Wherever she goes

I was heading for Banbury at the weekend, and I couldn't stop myself from humming this old rhyme, but it would have been the same if I'd been going to, say, Waterloo Station - I would have been crooning Waterloo Sunset to myself all week, no doubt.

Banbury's 13-year-old stand.
Banbury United FC (2) 2 v 1 (0) Winchester City FC
Evo-Stik Southern League South & West Division
Saturday 27th February 2016
Attendance: 589
Admission: £5 (usually £10)
Programme: £2 (superb - possibly the best non-league programme I've seen since starting HAH)
Colours: All red with yellow trimmings v Blue and black stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SP4639 / SP4640

Twelve steps of shallow covered terracing behind the Town End goal.
Chanting this nursery rhyme over and over, I got to thinking what it all meant. I'm not of the internet generation - I don't just whip my phone out and tap in a keyword and find the information I want within seconds - that just doesn't occur to me. I'm of the generation that grew up with shelves and shelves of encyclopaedias - it would always take a while to find what I wanted (and I'd normally get distracted in my search and start reading about the hyrax or something else instead (the elephant's nearest relative, despite being teeny-tiny and looking like a miserable guinea pig, by the way) - whatever it was that I wanted to know would be instantly lost in a fog of useless facts from Volume 9: HA to IN).

Anyway, the bit that interested me in the nursery rhyme was the "cock horse". Was this an antiquated way of saying "stallion"? Maybe. Then a female horse in those days must have been a "hen horse", and similarly, a male dog would have been a "cock dog", a female squirrel a "hen squirrel", and so on? I never did get around to looking it up. The encyclopaedias have long since been put away in a cardboard box in the attic.

What I did find out during the week was that there really is a statue of a cock horse in Banbury, and it resides next to Banbury Cross, so we had to go and see it on Saturday. Sure enough, the brassy cock horse was there (bestraddled by a fine lady), across the road from Banbury Cross, which sits upon a roundabout. Apparently, according to the accompanying story board, there used to be several crosses in the town (including my favourite, the Bread Cross), but these were considered blasphemous by the town's Puritans in the 1600s, and were all pulled down. The current cross was re-erected in Victorian times (the cock horse is a very recent addition).

It was all very interesting. However, my photo of the scene was spoiled by a man dressed as Spiderman holding up a board advertising pizzas. Or perhaps he made it more interesting, I don't know.

The two teams line up for handshakes pre-kick-off.
This diversion was all very well, but I was in Banbury for a football match. It was a big one, between two sides that were on lengthy winning runs - Winchester City had won six league games in a row, but Banbury United had gone one better, with seven in a row. Unsurprisingly with records like that, they were the top two clubs in the Southern League's South & West Division going in to the match.

There was much talk beforehand about the two clubs' top scorers - Winchester's Warren Bentley had recently been scouted by the likes of Luton Town and Notts County - non-league's "next Jamie Vardy" is out there somewhere, and why shouldn't it be Bentley, who has scored 101 goals in the last season and a half? But never mind Jamie Vardy, remember that Charlie Austin also came to promininence via the Wessex League a few seasons ago, which is where Bentley scored so many goals last season, helping his club to promotion.

Banbury's Ricky Johnson has also been scoring for fun this season, including five hat-tricks. Is he the next non-league sensation? Rings on his fingers, the ball on his toes, he shall score goals wherever he goes... It would be interesting to compare the two hotshots side by side on the same pitch.

The game gets under way with old industrial buildings as a backdrop on the Power Park side.
I was looking forward to this one. Banbury had been trailing the match heavily on social media during the preceding week. They were offering half-price admission, hoping for a big crowd. Walking towards the ground along a narrow pavementless road at twenty to three, it was clear that the locals had taken heed, as car after car after car drove carefully past me towards the club car parks.

Banbury's Spencer Stadium (they were originally called Banbury Spencer) is situated at the conclusion of this bumpy road at the far end of the Power Park Industrial Estate. It is squashed between warehouses and factories on two sides, with the main London to Birmingham railway line fifty yards from the entrance on the east side (three-carriage Chiltern Rail and longer Virgin Cross Country trains chugged by every few minutes throughout the match, visible between the stand and the clubhouse). At the far end of the ground is open land, over which you can see the trains disappearing in to the distance, London-bound, with lorries and vans poking up above the vegetation beyond the train tracks, hurtling along the M40 towards Birmingham. Further away, the green-grey Chiltern Hills are visible, covered in copses and spinneys.

On the far side of the ground, there's a small patch of rough grass, which slides down in to the River Cherwell, thin, grey and cold, meandering aimlessly towards Oxford with its cargo of empty crisp packets.

Amongst all this unremarkable land sits the bright and cheerful Spencer Stadium, painted in the club colours of red and yellow.

Banbury United's Felipe Barcelos scores the opening goal.
It's a fine ground. To the left of the main entrance is a one-storey clubhouse building, which was heaving on Saturday - this was to be the highest crowd of the season so far in this division - higher than one of the matches in the Conference National league this weekend at 589. Walking around the ground, the far end is hard standing, but it is wide and gently sloping towards the pitch, such that the back of the slope is the equivalent of approximately two steps of terracing, so that fans at the back can see over those at the front.

Past the corner flag and up to the first dugout is a thin stretch of paving. Beyond the second dugout, twelve steps of uncovered crumbly terracing rises up, giving a good elevated view over the pitch. This terracing carries on round the corner, where the back six steps are covered by a bright red tin roof, held up by yellow steel posts, which reaches almost to the far side. Where the cover stops, there is a yellow tea hut. Around the final corner, past a rusty roller parked outside the club shop (not open on Saturday - souvenirs available in the clubhouse instead), you come to the seated stand, built in 2003 - another red structure, but this time with blue plastic seats.

Changing rooms, toilets and Puritans Radio all squeeze in to the space between the stand and the entrance, all glimmering brilliantly in their cheerful reds and yellows.

Surrounding the pitch are eight floodlight pylons - proper ones, bought from Oxford City's old White Horse Ground when it was demolished. Stood up straight, tall and handsome, they look down solemnly on proceedings with four large lamps on each pole making them look like wise, bespectacled stick insects.

Winchester City's impressive collection of flags.
The match was entertaining. Winchester started off the better team, but Banbury scored first, the speedy Felipe Barcelos nipping through a gap in City's defence to lift the ball over Brendan Norris in the Winchester goal, much to the delight of the masses of Banbury fans behind the goal.

Goal number two followed before half-time, and this time it was Johnson hammering home from a cross from the right - the original Puritans couldn't ban all crosses from Banbury, after all. Frustration for the twenty or so travelling Winchester fans, but at least they had half-time to look forward to, when they could spend some time arranging their many flags at the open end - up went the flags of Iceland, Liechtenstein, an unidentified American state flag, a Winchester-Burnley friendship banner, and so on.

No more goals for Banbury in the second half, despite plenty of chances. Amongst the regular sounds of diesel-powered trains passing by, there was plenty of crowd noise - proper crowd noise, as opposed to the usual collection of separate voices, making sounds at the same time, but also individually distinct. Every time Banbury attacked, there was a roar from the covered terrace, which must have been inspiring for their players. However, it was Winchester who scored the final goal with 15 minutes left. A cross from the right by Zach Glasspool skimmed off the top of Bentley's head and settled in the far corner of the net.

Despite plenty of pressure, City couldn't score an equaliser. At the end of the game, the packed terrace at the Town End stayed behind to salute their heroes - red and yellow scarves twirling around, fists pumping the air. It feels good to be top of the league.

One very happy Banbury player meets his family pitchside after the final whistle.
Hmmm, rereading the description of the Spencer Stadium's surrounds above, it looks like I might have had a downer on the town (the Cherwell with its cargo of crisp packets, etc). Far from it - Banbury is not unpleasant. If you enjoy shopping, it has a large mall; if you prefer smaller shops, there are plenty of those as well, hidden away in the mediaeval back alleys. If you like food and drink, there are many pubs and cafes. Could I recommend the town's speciality, the Banbury cake? It's like a warm mince pie, but made with puff pastry - delicious! And of course, if you like football, the Spencer Stadium is bright, cheerful and welcoming.

This was a relatively big match compared to some that I've covered, so there's plenty of other match reports and photos around. If you go to Banbury's website, for example, you can read a match report, follow a link to watch a seven minute video of the game, and admire some action photos.

I shall upload some more of my own photos to the HAH Facebook group page shortly.

Next up on HAH will be visits to the final three Wessex League grounds that I've yet to feature, starting on March 12th in Wiltshire. See you then.

No comments:

Post a Comment