Saturday, 24 October 2020

Bartley Green - Illey Road

Bartley Green FC
B62 0HF

Illey Lane
Bartley Green

Ground Number: 938
Saturday 24th October 2020
AFC Birmingham 9-0 Gornal Youth
Midland League U21 West


Bartley Green FC was established in 1949 and for the first 30 years of their history played football in a variety of Saturday & Sunday leagues. They had a couple of seasons in the Midland Combination Division 3 between 1979 and 1981, finishing in 6th and 8th before returning to local football. They would return to the Midland Combination in 2005, starting in Division 2 (step 8 of the non-league pyramid). They were champions two seasons in a row and so earned promotion to the Premier Division in 2007. Though they were never relegation candidates, they never challenged for the top half of the table either. The club transferred to the WMRL Premier in 2012 and spent a couple of seasons here. A dispute with a club stewardess led to her winning an unfair dismissal case and the bill of nearly £20,000 led to financial worries and the club folding midway through the 2013-14 season. A new club, Bartley Green Illey FC (the suffix denoting the name of the road that the ground is located in) was formed for the 2014/15 season and were placed in the WMRL Division 2 (step 8). They finished 12th in their only season here, before folding but retaining their Sunday side. The ground is still in use by local clubs in various leagues.

The club played in the FA Cup for a few seasons, their best run coming in their debut season of 2010/11. That season, they overcame Willenhall Town and Causeway United before losing out to Bedworth United in a 1st Qualifying Round Replay. In the FA Vase, they reached the 1st Round on four occasions. In terms of local cups, the club won the Birmingham Midweek Floodlit Cup in 2010 as well as the Smedley Crooke Memorial Cup in 2011 & 2013. The ward of Bartley Green has a population of just under 25,000 and is situated near Halesowen. It is home to Bartley Reservoir where a young Bill Oddie did a lot of his bird watching and was home to the UK's tallest ever person - Jane Bunford standing at 7 feet 11 inches tall before her death in the late 1920s.


Right before football was cancelled back in March, fellow hopper Anwar & I enjoyed a Saturday double in the Midlands, thanks to the Midland U21 League which was a rare beast in that its games kicked off at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. Though our original choice at Barlestone St Giles was called off, we managed to get a new ground for Anwar and a revisit for me at Quorn before we headed up Telford way. We both fancied a double this weekend, though with the various COVID-19 restrictions, we were playing it safe. The league had games at some interesting venues but a game at Bloxwich was avoided as they were in the 'high' tier but happily, the former ground of Bartley Green was hosting a game between AFC Birmingham and Gornal Youth. Even better, it was near Halesowen, home of one of AK Grill, one of the best takeaways that Anwar & I have visited in our eight years of hopping together. The day before was good, I finished work fairly early which is always a bonus on a Friday. I walked to town, stopping at a local butcher for a great burger for lunch. A couple of pints, a fair few snacks and 5 hours later, I had covered 12 miles on foot and enjoyed a nice walk. I had dinner and a few drinks at home before grabbing an early night just after 9. I had a restless nights sleep but felt OK when I woke at 5 am the following morning. I had a couple more hours in bed before getting up at 7 and getting some breakfast. I had a freshen up and got my things together before leaving at 8. Twenty minutes later, I was in Aylesbury with Anwar there waiting for me. It was a good journey up with clear roads and Union Jack keeping us company on the radio. We got to the ground at 9.50 with the venue very much in AFC Birmingham colours rather than that of the former owners Bartley Green. We met a friendly pair of blokes who had been coming down the ground for over 40 years and at half time got a Bovril from the tea bar. I caught up online before kick-off and was glad that I had a bit of time to spare.

AFC Birmingham were formed in 2013 as a youth side but had only been playing U21 football for a couple of seasons. Following a mid-table finish last season, they'd enjoyed an encouraging start this season, sitting in 5th place. They'd had wins against Allscott (5-0), Bewdley Town (3-1), Redditch United (6-1) and Kidderminster Harriers (4-1) as well as losses against Stourport Swifts (2-6) and Halesowen Town (2-3).  Gornal Youth was the junior side of Gornal Athletic and they were making their debut season in the league. They'd lost all six games and endured some pretty heavy defeats, losing 9-0 to both Rushall Olympic and Stourport Swifts as well as a 7-0 loss to Halesowen Town. The game started very much as predicted with AFC Birmingham in navy and Gornal in white. It took just 7 minutes for the hosts to take the lead when #9 advanced down the left, cut in and put a curling shot into the top corner from 20 yards despite the keeper getting a hand to it. It was 2-0 on 16 minutes, an attack down the right saw the ball crossed in for an unmarked #9 to finish from six yards for his and his teams second. A couple of quick-fire goals just before the break confirmed the outcome of the game. Firstly on 44 minutes, a corner was put in front the right and #5 headed home. Then a minute later, #8 completed a good run by firing low into the bottom right-hand corner. The one-way traffic continued in the second period, #8 got his second and made it 5-0 when he bundled a cross home. Three minutes later it was 6-0, thanks to a composed finish by #14  from a narrow-angle. On 65 minutes it was 7-0, a cross from #14 saw #9's shot well saved by the keeper but #12 was on hand to follow up from a few yards out. Another couple of quick-fire goals rubbed salt into the wounds for Gornal. On 83 minutes, #12 got away down the right to finish past the keeper. The rout was completed on 85 minutes when #11 finished from point-blank range after a cross. The 24 in attendance had enjoyed a fine performance by the hosts, but credit to Gornal, they stuck together and never bickered. The referee handled the game fairly well, even if he was very fond of handing out yellow cards for trivial offences.


ILLEY LANE is a great venue for the level and would probably be good enough for step 5. There are a few signs of its former team, but AFC Birmingham have smartened the place up a lot and it is well kept and in pleasant surroundings. There are two areas of cover in use - a 50 seater 'arena' type stand plus a low area of flat standing on the other side that has a load of school chairs in. There's a further area of cover in the corner, but this is disused. There's also a basic tea bar serving hot and cold drinks and the Bovril I had was very good. There's plenty of parking, but I'm not sure about public transport options.

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