My Grounds

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Sandhurst Town - Bottom Meadow

Sandhurst Town FC
Bottom Meadow
Sandhurst Memorial Park
Yorktown Road
GU47 9BJ

Ground: 31
Date: 18th November 2017
Sandhurst Town 1-4 Bicester Town
Hellenic League Division 1 East

Sandhurst Town FC - History

Sandhurst Town were founded in 1910 and spent the vast majority of their first 70 years playing in the Reading & District League, with a brief spell in the East Berkshire League as well. In 1979, the club were elected to the Aldershot & District League, finishing 3rd in their first season at this level. In 1984, the club finished as runners-up, at which point they became founder members of the Chiltonian League, in which they finished 2nd in 1987.

In 1990, the club applied to join the Combined Counties League and, after being granted senior status by the Berks & Bucks County FA, were accepted into the league. Initially, they struggled, finishing bottom in their first two seasons and only avoiding a return to the Chiltonian League after Steyning Town were transferred to the Sussex County League.

After this, the club remained in the Combined Counties League (and its Premier Division, when that was formed in 2003) until relegation at the end of the 2012/13 season, recording a highest finish of 5th place in the 2003/04 season. Since relegation to Step 6, the club initially entered Division 1 of the Combined Counties League and struggled, finishing bottom in the 2014/15 season.  After an 11th-place finish the following season, the club were transferred to Division 1 East of the Hellenic League, finishing 8th in their first season and being in a similar position going into this game.

In the FA Cup, Sandhurst Town's best run saw them reach the 2nd Qualifying Round in the 2004/05 season, beating Southwick and Bracknell Town before losing 2-0 at home to Leatherhead. However, the club haven't competed in the competition now since the 2013/14 season, and last won a game in it in the 2007/08 season. As for the FA Vase, the club's best run saw them reach the 3rd Round in the 2004/05 season, beating Ash United, Reading Town and Milton United before losing 4-1 away against AFC Newbury.

My Visit

Initially, I thought Matt would be able to join me on this day, so I had been looking at the options available in London, although I found out a few days in advance that this wasn't the case, forcing me to rethink my options. As such, I flicked through the Groundhopper app on my phone to see if any of the nearby fixtures on Saturday interested me, and then if any of these would allow me to get there and back by 6pm. 

With that criteria in mind, I eventually found this game that caught my eye, with it being in a league I hadn't yet seen any football in and with it involving Bicester Town, a team who I have a slight soft spot for (for some reason); with them not currently having their own ground - and with their current home at Ardley United a pain to access via public transport - my options to watch them were limited, so this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

On the day of the game, the forecast mentioned that there would be some rain, so I dressed appropriately and headed out, catching a train that would get me into Sandhurst for 2:30pm. From there I quickly headed over to the ground, not particularly enjoying the walk through a muddy Memorial Park to the ground entrance (it was very muddy thanks to the poor weather).

At any rate, I got to the ground and, after paying for entry and getting a programme and sausage roll from the clubhouse, I started to take a few photos. However, I was distracted by a conversation with a local news reporter - who used to be a fan of Finchampstead FC - who was also taking in the game. He told me a few interesting things about the ground and the teams involved, and also let me write down the teams (or at least the Sandhurst team, as he had been unable to get his hands on the Bicester team sheet) before the players came out for kick-off, at which point I had to move across quickly to get photos of the players coming onto the pitch.

Because I had been so engrossed in conversation before the game, I ended up doing my circuit in the early stages of the game, which wasn't ideal, but I didn't particularly feel like waiting until half-time for whatever reason on this occasion. As it turned out, this was a good decision, as the drizzle turned into a downpour at half-time and, even in my winter coat, I would have been completely soaked had I tried to do my circuit at that point.

Here's my report on a game which Bicester completely dominated, showing just why they were top of the league and why they also did so well last season:

While I was expecting - and also kind of hoping for - a competitive battle between these teams, Bicester Town - or, to be more precise, their striker Elliott Powell - were completely dominant from start to finish, almost seeming on another level in comparison to Sandhurst. The only reasons the margin of victory wasn't larger was probably because of the conditions (light drizzle in the first half turned into a downpour in the second half, which made the pitch very slick and slippery) and because, after scoring the fourth, Bicester seemed satisfied with what they had and didn't put much effort into getting more goals.

The gap between the two teams was foreshadowed within the first minute when Bicester bundled the ball into the net from a corner, only for the goal to be disallowed due to the scorer fouling the Sandhurst defender when going for the ball. After this, the game initially seemed fairly even, but it gradually became apparent that Bicester were the better side in that they were carving out a greater quantity and quality of chances than Sandhurst, while also defending a lot better when called upon to do so. As such, it was unsurprising when Elliott Powell gave Bicester the lead after 23 minutes, a ball into the box not dealt with by the Sandhurst defence and eventually aimed goalwards by Powell, with a slight deflection taking it past Neil Griffith in the Sandhurst goal.

After this, the half continued with Bicester on top, although some niggly fouls from both sides (albeit mainly from Bicester, admittedly) started to influence proceedings, with the referee seeming to miss a few rough challenges that he perhaps could have dealt with (the pitch wasn't slick enough to be an excuse at this point, as the downpour hadn't quite started yet). In any case, Elliott Powell had a good chance for a second on the half-hour mark, chipping the ball over the keeper only for a Sandhurst defender to clear off the line. Another great chance came a few minutes later when a cross reached the head of Bicester's number 2 (there weren't teamsheets anywhere at the game, and the only reason I've got any names at all is because someone had happened to note the Sandhurst team down, and had asked Bicester's manager who their first goalscorer was) - albeit only because he basically climbed up the defender's back - and going inches wide. However, the Bicester player suffered a nasty injury to his shoulder in the fall, and was replaced after a five minute delay (an ambulance appeared at the start of the second half, presumably to take him to a nearby hospital).

Once the game got back underway, Elliott Powell doubled his side's lead in the 45th minute with a brilliant solo run: he received the ball near the halfway line and ran through the Sandhurst midfield and defence, twisting and turning and completely baffling the entire Sandhurst team before calmly finishing past the goalkeeper; easily one of, if not the best goal I've seen so far this season. Bicester had a couple more chances before half-time, while Sandhurst tried to force their way through and pull one back, but it remained 2-0 to Bicester going into the half-time break.

By the time the teams came out for the second half, the drizzle had turned into a downpour and it seemed bound to influence events on the pitch. However, this wasn't immediately apparent as Elliott Powell completed his hat-trick on 50 minutes, having his initial shot excellently saved by Neil Griffith before finishing at the second attempt. After this, the game inevitably started to peter out, with the rain influencing both teams, albeit not making it any easier for Sandhurst to break through a resolute Bicester defence, despite the best efforts of Freddie Barron on the wing. In particular, the increasingly-slippery pitch meant that the niggly tackles that started to appear in the first half returned, although thankfully no one was injured in any of these incidents (some of the tackles were incredibly rough, much rougher than I think the players actually intended, because of how slick and slippery the pitch had become).

As the half progressed, Sandhurst started to push more and more in search of a way back into the game and started to create more and more good chances, but ultimately the final ball was rarely good enough for Sandhurst to score. Bicester also had a few chances in this less memorable period of the second half (from 55-75 minutes), but generally seemed content with their three-goal advantage, feeling it unnecessary to commit many men forward. However, the game came alive in the last 15 minutes, a couple of good Sandhurst chances culminating in a penalty claim that was controversially dismissed by the referee (from the main stand, where I was sitting to avoid the rain, it very much looked as if the Bicester keeper had fouled Freddie Barron when he brought him down, but it was a tough call), only for Elliott Powell to go on another dazzling run to earn a penalty after being brought down in the box after 80 minutes (when surrounded by the entire Sandhurst defence). Naturally, Powell stood to take the penalty himself and scored with ease, with Griffith not even moving off his line, to make it 4-0 to Bicester.

After this, as had been the case before, Bicester seemed content with their lead and largely sat back and soaked up the pressure from a Sandhurst side at least seeking a consolation goal, occasionally breaking forward on the counter attack, albeit without much real intent. As the match entered added time, it looked as if Bicester had done enough to keep a clean sheet, only for them to give away a corner which was headed into the net by Sandhurst's Jon Malone in the 90th minute, despite the desperate efforts of a Bicester defender to keep it out of the net. However, this unsurprisingly proved to be little more than a consolation goal, with Bicester winning 4-1.

Overall, while this was a fairly one-sided affair, it was an entertaining game between two sides who, for the most part, just wanted to play football the right way and score goals (the two teams have scored 68 goals between them in the league this season); in particular, Bicester's Elliott Powell was an absolutely joy to watch as a player who is clearly far, far too good for Step 6. Speaking of too good for Step 6, the gulf between the two teams means that I would have to say the same about Bicester Town as a whole, as they completely outclassed Sandhurst and were excellent value for their victory; although, this is only true if Sandhurst are fairly representative of the quality of most of the teams in the Hellenic Division 1 East, which would seem to be the case based on their position in mid-table.

The Ground

Bottom Meadow is a basic ground - probably the most basic I've visited so far - with the only cover being the 100-seater Atcost on the far side of the pitch (and with around a quarter of this closed off, possibly due to vandalism) and an area under the clubhouse roof, with a couple of park tables placed here as additional seating. Further seating is provided in the form of two painted park benches behind the near goal, while the only other notable feature at the ground is a disused payhut in the far corner.

The rest of the ground - excluding the area behind the far goal - is open hard standing, with an overall capacity of around 1,000. However, the record attendance at the ground - back when it was little more than a field, apparently - is 2,449 for the visit of AFC Wimbledon in August 2002; how that many people fitted in this ground I will never be able to fathom.


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