Tuesday 7 May 2013

Hungerford Town - Bulpit Lane


 Hungerford Town FC
Town Ground
Bulpit Lane
West Berkshire
RG17 0AY

01488 682939

Ground Number: 272
Monday 6th May 2013
Hungerford Town 3-1 Merthyr Town
Southern League D1 S&W Playoff Final


The club was established in 1886, playing friendlies for the early parts of their history before playing in local leagues such as the Hungerford League, Newbury League and the Swindon & District League. in 1958, the club joined the Hellenic League, starting out in the Premier Division. Despite a couple of 5th placed finishes in their first three seasons, they were relegated in 1965. By 1971, they were Division 1 champions, winning promotion back up to the Premier Division. In 1978, Hungerford Town joined the Isthmian League Division 2 (third tier) after a third-place finish. They'd remain here (or in a regionalised Division 2 South) until 2003 with a couple of third-place finishes being their best effort. They moved back to the Hellenic Premier, which following reorganisation, was a sideways step. This handed them more local games and despite struggling initially, they were champions in 2009, earning promotion to the Southern League D1 South & West. The last decade has been a successful one. In 2012, a 2nd place finish behind Poole Town (who they'd lost to in the playoffs the previous season) was good enough to get in the playoffs where they beat Paulton Rovers & Merthyr Tydfil to earn promotion to the Southern Premier. In 2015 they lost in the playoffs to Truro City but made no mistake the following season, finishing 4th again and beating Hitchin Town & Leamington to reach the Conference South. They've been here ever since - a sixth-place finish in their first season being the best in the clubs history. They've had a couple of close calls with relegation in the past two seasons and currently sit adrift at the bottom of the table.

The club has played in the FA Cup every season since 1973. Their best run came during the 1979/80 season when they beat Calne Town, Trowbridge Town, Barry Town & Bridgend Town prior to losing to Slough Town in the 1st Round. In the FA Vase, Hungerford Town reached the FA Semi-Finals in 1978, 1979 and 1989. The latter of these produced the clubs record attendance of 1,684 for a game against Sudbury Town. In the FA Trophy, the FA Vase 3rd Round was reached in 2014 where they were beaten by Gosport Borough. The club's greatest local cup success came in 1982 when they beat Wycombe Wanderers to left the Berks & Bucks Cup. Other successes include the Basingstoke Senior Cup (twice), the Linaker Brothers Challenge Cup (twice), the Newbury Challenge Cup (twice), the Hungerford Challenge Cup (2004), the Hellenic Challenge Cup (three times), the Hellenic Supplementary Cup (2005) and the Hellenic Benevolent Cup (1961). The town of Hungerford is a small one, with a population of just under 5,800. It's most famous for 'The Hungerford Massacre' when on Wednesday 19th August 1987 Michael Ryan murdered 16 residents in a shotgun spree. Other famous people from the town include footballer Charlie Austin and talent show winner Will Young.


For my second step 3 non-league playoff in 2 days, I had the choice out of Hungerford or Lowestoft as my destination. As I had a fairly expensive weekend up North coming up, I opted for the one that was much nearer and so chose Hungerford, who would be playing Merthyr Town in a game that decided who would go up from the Southern League Division 1 - South and West. On the day I was off work and enjoyed a good sleep the night before. I decided to go to a car boot at Taplow, near Maidenhead on the way. I bought a few DVDs and a game for my old xBox before leaving there at 1.20. After a hassle free drive down the M4, I was in Hungerford by 2.10. The roads around the ground were really busy, so I was glad to find a parking space near the ground. The Merthyr fans coaches were arriving at that time and the whole of the town seemed to be there, with them taking around 500 fans for the journey down the M4 from Wales.

Hungerford had enjoyed some good times in the past few years. After coming up from the Hellenic League in 2009, they had consolidated their place on the Southern League before finishing 2nd in the League behind Poole Town this season. Merthyr Town meanwhile had been successful in all of their seasons since their formation in 2010, gaining 2 promotions in 2 years before this season's 3rd placed finish, a point behind today's hosts. However, this was a far cry from the heights that the original Merthyr Tydfil club reached. They were regulars in the Conference up until the mid-'90s and I had seen them play Wycombe at Adams Park in my first 2 years of supporting the Chairboys. From then on until their demise in 2010, they spent most of their time (apart from one season) in the Southern Premier, with a few good finishes, the best one being 3rd in 2004/05 season.

After going in and getting a programme I had a look around and took some pictures before looking for something to eat. There was a decent looking barbecue and so I had sausage and chips before sitting down and looking through my programme. It was soon time for kick-off and after a cagey first half with few chances for either team and it remained 0-0 at half time. Mark Draycott gave the home side the lead on 46 minutes, but the scores were soon level, thanks to Ryan Newman. For the rest of the half Hungerford looked the better side but were unable to profit from their domination. So after 90 minutes and the scores still level they went into extra time. Merthyr were looking really tired at this point and their best chances seemed to be through a penalty shoot-out, just as they had done to qualify for this final by beating Swindon Supermarine in the semis. But it wasn't to be, goals either side of the half time interval in extra time sent them out and they never looked like recovering from this double blow. It had been another good game in a decent atmosphere, mainly from the travelling Welsh contingent, who made up the majority of the 813 crowd. Despite it being busy I got out of Hungerford and on the M4 pretty quickly and was back home at around 7PM.


I was pleased when Wycombe entered the Berks & Bucks Cup for the first time in eight years at the start of the season. It was a shame I'd been to most of the grounds in recent times, so my two desired ties were away games at Newport Pagnell Town (last visited 2012) and Hungerford Town (last visited 2013). I was fairly pleased when we pulled out the latter, though I was in two minds about going, given that I'd done a pretty substantial blog already. However, on Saturday, I decided to go for it, given that fellow hopper Anwar was intent on going and I'd be on my own otherwise. I decided to freshen up my blog entry, researching the club's history and deciding to add a small update of my latest visit. The day of the game came and as my parents were away, I walked to town and back, as I needed to get some shopping on my day off. I came back and spent the afternoon at home. With the number of games off, I was pleased to be doing a game that appeared to have no such problems. After an early dinner of spicy chicken & chips, I left at 4.50, arriving to meet Anwar at the agreed time of 5.30. He was there waiting for me and so we were soon on our way. The roads around the outskirts of Oxford were poor as ever and Google Maps sent us via country roads before we hit the inevitable traffic just before the A34. There was 40 minutes delay in all, but eventually, we were there and parked up in a side road by 7.20. It was £12 to get in, probably the most I've ever paid for a County Cup tie, though to be fair, Hungerford Town had the joint cheapest prices in the Conference South with St Albans charging an eye-watering £18 as prices keep rising steeply. It was nice to see some familiar faces had made the journey and the Wycombe support made up the majority of the as-yet undeclared crowd.


Hungerford Town made three changes from their 2-0 win against Braintree Town on Saturday, whilst Wycombe were completely changed from their 3-1 win against Tranmere Rovers, though eight of the starting eleven had first-team experience this season with the most notable being ex England international David Stockdale who played in goal. Amazingly the team had 132 appearances between them this season, though that included appearances off of the bench and appearances in the Football League Trophy which ranks around equally with this competition in terms of importance. The three new faces were Ben Frempah, a defender who has been in and around the club for around a year and who made an appearance in the first team last season. New trialist number one was Paco Craig, a former West Ham youngster and defender who was most recently played for Louisville City in the USA's equivalent of the Championship. Also in the starting lineup was Erol Alkan who most recently played for Beroe in the Bulgarian top-tier and who finished 4th last season, he was another defender. The game started with Wycombe well on top but Hungerford soon came into the game, having chances of their own.  Wycombe took the lead on 35 minutes, Nnamdi Ofoborh finishing a low shot from just inside the area. It was still 1-0 at the break and Wycombe extended their lead on 52 minutes, a deflected shot from Nick Freeman from the edge of the area making it 2-0. Wycombe brought on Josh Hart and David Wates from their backroom staff with the game looking safe. It was strength and conditioning coach Wates scored with a powerful shot on 70 minutes and was also unlucky hitting the post later on. In the end, Wycombe's class showed through, but Hungerford battled hard. We left at 9.35, listening to Radio 5 on the way home where the main news was Chelsea getting beaten 3-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the 'Champions' League. Results in League 1 were pretty kind for Wycombe, with no-one gaining major ground with their games in hand. I dropped Anwar off at 10.45 and got home myself at 11.10. I stayed up for around 20 minutes, but couldn't get to sleep for ages and needed a nap the following afternoon.


BULPIT LANE is a pretty decent ground for this level. There are several small areas of cover around the ground, the 2 seating areas holding around 500 people, with probably around the same amount again being covered standing. The rest is open standing. The tea bar on my visit was in the form of a barbecue and was very nice and decent value with Sausage and chips for £2.50. The clubhouse was recently refurbished and was a fair size although I didn't drink in there. There is no club shop to my knowledge although you can buy metal badges at the bar.


In my latter visit, the ground had changed a lot with two new seated stands, adding around 300 more seats to the capacity and also a new covered terrace for around 100. The tea bar was similar and the bar had a reasonable range of drinks with Mallets Cider and Skal Fruit Cider on offer as well as ales and lagers.

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