Thursday, 19 January 2017

Larkhall Athletic - Plain Ham

Larkhall Athletic FC

Plain Ham
Charlcombe Lane

01225 334952

Ground Number: 378
Thursday 10th July 2014
Larkhall Athletic 0-2 Bath City

As my parents were away for the week, I was looking to take extra opportunities to get out and see new grounds and games. Sadly it was just at the start of pre season, so options were not as varied as they could be. Initially I was going to go to a game on the Friday - either Yate Town v Swindon Town or Norton United v Crewe Alexandra. But then I saw there was a centenary match between Larkhall Athletic and local side Bath City, to celebrate the hosts being 100 years old. There was also a really good cider pub in Bath, so it would make a good day out. Added to the fact that there was the possibility that a couple of people that I knew from Bath might turn up, and I was sold. The only downside was that I was up at 4am both days, so again, I'd be short on sleep, but I can cope with that.

The first time I saw the name Larkhall, it reminded me of the women's prison drama 'Bad Girls', which was one of my favourite shows. I was half expecting to turn up and find Jim Fenner as head steward and the two Julies working behind the tea bar! Back in real life, the club were celebrating their centenary, having been formed in 1914. The club played local football until 1976, when they were elected to the Western League, which had expanded to 2 divisions at that time. After a series of mid table finishes, they started to get better and better and won the league for the first time in 1989. They would win this division twice more, finally being in a position, finally being able to take promotion in 2009, 20 years after their initial triumph. This meant they were at step 5 of non league, in the Western League Premier Division.  After finishing 14th in their first season at the higher level, they won the league at the second time of asking, but again had to wait till last season's league win to gain promotion, due to the delightfully named 'Plain Ham' ground not being up to Southern League standard. The club must be hoping that this elevated status givers them a better chance of a run in the FA Cup, for they have only ever reached the first qualifying round, a feat they have achieved the last 3 seasons running, losing out to a Southern League side on each occasion. Once competition their promotion will exclude them from is the FA Vase, which they have done pretty well in. As recently as last season , they have reached the 5th round, repeating 2012/13 where they lost a pulsating tie 4-3 to Tunbridge Wells, the eventual finalists.

Bath City were regular rivals with Wycombe, during my first 2 years of watching them, and our last 2 in the Conference. The first time I saw them was in April 1992 when Wycombe gained a narrow 1-0 win, thanks to a Keith Scott goal. Despite finishing with 94 points from 42 games that season, we still stayed down, owing to Colchester's same points total, but superior goal difference. This meant another season in the Conference and the following October, we beat them again, 2-0 at Adams Park, this time, Scott and Kerr scoring. We always seemed to struggle at Twerton Park when we played them though. The only time I have been to their ground is when Bristol Rovers shared there and we had a couple of games in the FA Cup and League. I have seen the Romans a few times since - at AFC Wimbledon, Gateshead and Hayes and Yeading, but they were still to gain a win in my presence, the best result being a 2-2 draw with Hayes and Yeading in January 2013. Their best league finish came in 1985, when they finished 4th in the Conference.  Their best FA Cup run came in 1993/94, when they took Stoke City to a replay, previously they had beaten Hereford United (then a league club) live on Sky, which I remember for the appearance of Grantley Dicks (brother of West Ham's Julian) for them, and for the interesting patchwork quilt kit that Hereford wore. It was typical of 1990's kits, being an acquired taste, it's certainly unique in any case.

I had quite a busy day at work and was rushed off my feet until 1pm. I finished work, bought some Irn Bru and other stuff for tonight and went and checked the latest on Facebook before leaving at 1.20. The journey was a lot quicker than I thought, and I made good progress down the M4 and into the Westcountry. After a brief stop at Membury services to change into some more comfortable shoes, I was at Larkhall by 3.20.

I walked into Bath as previously planned and went to the Stable, which on the internet looked very nice. When I got there I was not let down, the place was manna from heaven for a cider head like me. There were around 50 that I could try, and so I settled on 5 thirds that I could have for £7.50 on one of their taster boards. All of it was lovely and I had Devon Gold, Dorset Dabinett, Devon Bloom, Bridge Farm and Dorset Draught. I then checked out Facebook and had a think about my plans for the coming season. There was a really attractive groundhop in the Eastern Counties League in September. But stupidly they had been ignorant and selfish and arranged it for when the North Berks League groundhop is on, leaving people unable to attend both. They refused to budge when contacted about it, and also were doing nothing different with regards to selling tickets and programmes in advance. This was sure to lead to disappointment for lots of hoppers, especially as the company I use, Groundhop UK, organise everything so well so that no one is left without. They had become upset at the ECL's pig ignorance and the last things I wanted to do is upset anyone involved with them, by supporting and encouraging the lack of community spirit that the ECL had shown.

By the time I had finished that lot, I was feeling pretty nice and relaxed, and headed off to my second port of call, the Pink Planet games shop, which came highly recommended by LawnboysPost1975, one of the retro gamers I subscribe to on YouTube . There was a decent selection there, but none that I was willing to pay collectors price for, the only one I was looking for was Soccer 97, the follow-up to Olympic Soccer. I then went in search of food, putting the ground into google maps and stopping at a Chinese for some chips. I also stopped at the Hive pub as there was a local Honey's Midford Cider that I fancied. That was to be the end of my drinking cider wise for the night, as it was now 5.30 and I needed to recover in time to drive home.

I stopped for a Kangaroo Burger at Billy's Burgers on the way back to the ground. By the time I had reached my destination at 6.45, I was sweating like a pig, but still needed to put dime charge into my phone, which was under 30%. I got my stuff together to go in the ground, going in just before 7, half an hour before kick off. I was glad I had got my programme beforehand, as they sold the last one, a couple of customers before me. First port of call was the clubhouse toilet to clear myself out, and with that done, I found myself a place to watch the game with 10 minutes till kick off. I met up with Andy, a Bath fan, who I watched the game with and we had a good chat and catch up.

It was a pretty decent first half with chances for both sides. Bath took the lead early on, when the Larkhall keeper lost the ball, leaving an empty net to tap in to. It was a pretty even game in the first half as Bath were fielding a team of trialists. More of the first team came on in the second half and that resulted in them having more of the play. The visitors extended their lead with a neat and clinical low shot about 10 minutes into the second. Larkhall did have a chance to pull a goal back from the penalty spot but they spurned it, blasting it straight at the keeper. That was it as far as goals were concerned, and it had been a decent, if unspectacular game.

I made good time on the way back listening to some tunes and getting back around 11. I had a quick chat with my mate Kieran when I got back, and I will be glad to catch up properly with him when we meet at Harrogate next Tuesday, as well as a load of other Grimsby fans. I got to sleep just after midnight, thankful that I only had 2 more 4am starts before my week off.

PLAIN HAM is a wonderfully named ground and is typical of a recently promoted step 5 ground in that it has newly erected temporary stands. Pretty much half the ground is raised above ground level and offers a nice view. There are small stands on either side with a mixture of seating and standing. Behind the far goal is a small area of cover.

I didn't use the bar or tea bar, but know that they had Blackthorn on draught , which makes a change. The city of Bath is 40 minutes away and is well worth the walk, you pass a few takeaways on the way if you fancy something to eat.

The programme on the is occasion was very good, with plenty to read and I learned a fair bit about the club from it. I enjoyed my visit there, as everyone was really friendly. I will certainly be aiming to do more grounds in the West Country, as it is excellent for cider, and if this and Melksham are anything to go by, have plenty of grounds with interesting features.

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