Fairford Town FC
Ground Number: 554
Tuesday 16th February 2016
Fairford Town 3-0 Letcombe
Hellenic D1 West
I’d be on my own for this groundhop again so I was hoping there would be something fairly nearby so that I wouldn’t have to spend too much money. However all the new grounds I needed were over 50 miles away, so I’d be pushing or exceeding my budget of £20 per game - especially if I needed to leave early and eat out to avoid the inevitable traffic. I drew up a shortlist and after much deliberation whittled it down to 10 new grounds, plus a revisit to Thatcham Town as I didn’t pick up a programme last time I was there. I knew the cold weather would play a part, so I was leaving it until the day off the game to finalise my decision, after news of pitch inspections and looking at the weather forecast for various places, especially with regards to the temperature so as to avoid a frozen pitch. Since my last groundhop I'd seen Wycombe beat Exeter in a dull game and that had been the case for the last couple of times I'd watched them. So I was glad to be having a couple of weeks break and watching some different football instead.
FAIRFORD TOWN were formed in 1891 and for much of the early years played in local Cirencester and Swindon leagues. In 1970 they joined the Hellenic League and have stayed there ever since, spending the bulk of their time in the Premier Division. They have been runners up on 3 occasions, the most recent being in 1991 when they were runners up to Milton United. In 2012 they were relegated to Hellenic D1 West after finishing 2nd bottom. Despite two 4th placed finishes in their first 2 seasons at the lower level, last season they finished 14th out of 15 teams. The season has seen a vast improvement, with them sitting pretty at the top of the league, though a few teams have games in hand that could change that. Opponents Letcombe were in 9th and were yet to win away from home this season.
In terms of cup competitions, the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round has been reached on 3 occasions where defeats to Bideford, Bishops Cleeve and Gosport Borough ended their participation. In the FA Vase, the 2nd Round has been reached on several occasions - most recently in 2004 when they lost 3-1 to Bitton. In local competitions their latest win came in 2013 when they won the Jim Newman Tournament, whilst the Gloucestershire Challenge Trophy has been won twice, as well as some Hellenic League Cups.
On the day of the game it was decision time. A new contender came in the form of Alton Town who were hosting the cup game between Horndean and Totton & Elling which was going to be played on 3G after 8 failed attempts previously. However after finding out there was no programme I decided against it. After hearing of freezing temperatures in Warwick it was down to Sawbridgeworth & Fairford. The latter got the nod after they were the most active on Twitter and over the course of lunchtime they were most welcoming and helpful, keeping me informed of anything I might need to know. Part of the reason why I chose Fairford was that the M25, unreliable at the best of times had seen a lorry accident cause lots of delays and so I wanted to avoid that. I played on Football Manager 2016 to pass the time in the afternoon, and had some Paella for dinner before leaving for the game just after 5.30.
One thing that I had seen crop up in the news and on the radio whilst driving was some clubs wanting to make the FA Cup a midweek only competition and to scrap replays. This drew a lot of opposition from most fans and rightly so. In my mind it's the greatest cup competition in the world and should not be altered to suit the privileged few. If I were to make any changes it would be to include all of step 6's non league sides (except pseudo reserve sides) rather than just the top 4. I'd also fine any club who named an under strength side £1M and give this back to the prize fund. In my mind, it's the Champions and Europa Leagues that need reforming. Turning it back into a cup competition with one leg only (plus replays if needed) would make European encounters special again, rather than the current situation where we are over saturated with games - not for the benefit of the fan, but just as a money making exercise. The 'league' idea was no doubt pinched from the World Cup, where it works as all the games are in one central location, and the competition would be far too short were it to be straight knockout scenario.
It was a fairly decent journey over and I got to the ground at 7.10 after around 10 minutes delay around Witney. I was given a great welcome by the 2 guys at the gate and shown to the bar. There was plenty of memorabilia on display and they even had a couple of good good ciders. I had a pint of Black Rat Perry which I'd not had since I went to Melksham about 2 years ago. It was good value too at £2.90. Luke was also in the bar and we had a quick catch up while I drank my pint. When getting my bag ready I'd put my iPad mini in. The whole reason I'd taken out a contract is because the EE signal is so dire in most places that I need it, whilst O2 always fares much better. Figuring the potential for a problem I'd bought it along and this proved to be a wise choice as the data signal was really slow and I'd have been unable to check my social media had I not bought my tablet.
After a lap of the ground to take some pictures I settled down in a small covered area on the bar side where they had some padded seats. I was really enjoying this groundhop and the game was good too. Fairford took the lead when Gambling finished with a low shot from inside the area after a ball was played across but Letcombe were showing no sign of a side with poor away form, playing their part in an end to end game. If anything they had the better chances and it wasn’t until the 74th minute when the hosts hit the bar from a free kick that they seriously looked like scoring. On 80 minutes the game was made safe. A superb delivery from a corner was headed in at the far post by Scott Chilcott to pretty much seal the game. Lee Smith added a third with a cracking shot from outside the area to make it 3-0 a couple of minutes later.
I'd really enjoyed this hop, with there even being a couple of friendly dogs that loved any attention that they got. They hung around by the washing machines and tumble driers, which in a rather unique arrangement were on full view to the public at the back of one of the stands. I left at 9.40 and the journey home was hassle free, only taking 70 minutes. It had started off on some real country roads with rabbits running about all over the place and while I was glad to avoid them, it reminded me of how much I'd enjoyed rabbit for my dinner whilst on holiday in Malta. When I got in I noticed a tweet from the club thanking me and Luke for coming and wishing us a safe trip home, which was typical of the warm welcome we had received. I watched a bit of TV in bed, going to sleep around half midnight, having had a great evening out.
The clubhouse was great with a good range of drinks at fair prices and plenty of pennants from various clubs on the walls, including some decent foreign ones. There was hot food available, with the likes of sausage and chips being enjoyed by fans. There was a decent range of merchandise available also including Hoodies for £20, T-Shirts for £10 and scarves for £7. The programme was £1 and was well presented and informative. I'd definitely recommend a hop here, it's the sort of club I'd be happy to have as the team I support and to keep coming back, and there's not a huge amount of clubs I can say that about.