Bristol Manor Farm v Gillingham Town
The Creek / FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round / 6th August 2016
“Worrall Thompson – get this lad a cider!” instructed the lad sitting next to me on the train. Directly opposite me was a ginger-bearded chap with a white shirt, but despite the evident likeness it was not the actual fromer TV chef and Tesco thief Anthony Worrall Thompson. It was 9.30am and it seemed I had stumbled upon a party of Swansea lads en route to an almighty piss up in lovely Bath. It seemed they had taken quite a shine to me and were soon insisting I joined them in indulging in cider. Just half an hour before, they had found themselves on the same train carriage between Swansea and Cardiff as the touring Jeremy Corbyn – he had refused alcohol from them. Unlike the Labour leader, I was not about to be rude and snub the offer, even though cider is not my usual tipple. Unlike the large group surrounding me, I was not heading for Bath (although they were adamant I should join them), I was heading for Bristol – so I guess the cider was a fitting start to the day with Bristol being such a hotbed of the stuff. Plus, cider is definitely a summer drink and today was definitely a proper summer’s day. I exited the train to chants of ‘DANNY MURPHY!’ as earlier in our journey I had somehow got on to the anecdote of the time a shaven-headed me got genuinely mistaken for Danny Murphy in Liverpool.
I absolutely adore Bristol – it is undoubtedly the ‘coolest’ city in the country and certainly a city I need to visit a lot more. That was my thinking behind today’s football choice. Astonishingly, I am still yet to visit Ashton Gate, so my original plan was to head to Bristol City’s season opener against Wigan. But, I was in Bristol and Championship football is so un-hipster; to fit in and be cool I needed a more bohemian football fix and that’s when I spotted the perfect answer on the FA Cup fixture list…
Bristol Manor Farm! Firstly, they are called Bristol Manor Farm, so they’ve already won ‘hipster’ points right there with that wonderful name alone. The other main draw was the fact that it was an FA Cup clash and not wanting to jump on any bandwagons (being in Bristol is not about jumping on bandwagons), but it really is the best competition there is.
It was a baking hot day in Bristol and the streets were busy with people revelling in such weather. I was spurning the city centre and heading towards the Clifton area of the city, of course with a usual detour planned. Originally, I had planned on heading up to the Clifton Suspension Bridge to be all ‘tourist-y’, but then I ended up walking through the Harbourside area and predictably ended up drinking Punk IPA in the wonderfully-located Wetherspoons by the water. I got chatting to some Bristol City fans (mainly about Swansea god Lee Trundle), who were full of the usual preseason optimism, before carrying on my travels through the city towards Clifton. I gave them the opportunity to try sway me towards Ashton Gate, but that would be a tough ask now with my plan for Bristol Manor Farm already neatly formulated. Iwas sticking with Bristol Manor Farm.
I was now heading up into the surrounding hills of Bristol and past a series of rather niche looking pubs. That’s the problem I find with Bristol: there’s just so many interesting and different looking pubs that someone like me wants to delve into them all – an impossible feat in just one short day trip. So I continued to snub the aforementioned pubs, until I was heading past the main high street of Clifton and on the road towards Clifton train station. A quick beer stop was had in the rather empty Vittoria bar, before I headed a little further down the road.
In spite of me praising Bristol for its plethora of more avant-garde bars, I found myself in my second Wetherspoons of the day – at least it was a very nice, compact one though. I would also learn that the W.G. Grace name of the establishment came from a legendary local amateur cricketer, who was born in the suburbs of Bristol – not that a cricket link really appeals to me at all. More Punk IPA was ordered whilst I waited for Ed to arrive. Ed grew up on the same street as me and so predictably we became best pals; he now lives in Clifton, but stupidly he was off to Swansea today instead of coming to watch shit football with me – he had the decency to join me for an hour before driving off over the Severn at least. Before he headed off we did decide to go in a more interesting bar in the form of The Penny and then we said our goodbyes as I crossed the road to Clifton train station.
The use of the very short train journey from Clifton to Sea Mills today was important. Bristol Manor Farm had formed an initiative that meant if you showed your train ticket to Sea Mills at the turnstile, you got into the game for half-price. A cool idea I thought. As I sat on the train, it became clear that there were several groundhoppers on board; the gang had that usual groundhopper look, but they were even more discernible today as they were going out of their way to nag the female ticket inspector to sell them a train ticket – evidently for the discount at today’s game. I was no different though, as the ticket lady initially walked straight past me to which I called her back to state I needed a ticket; there was not exactly the usual scenes of fare-dodging you see up and down the country. With £2 returns bought, a whole host of groundhoppers seemed to be alighting at Sea Mills station and within seconds I was in love with Bristol Manor Farm.
From Sea Mills station, the ground is visible dead ahead of you. However, between the ground and the station lies the River Tryrn flowing into the adjacent River Avon – not that there was much flowing today with the whole river seemingly dried up with a chasm of mud left behind. This meant a walk across a small footbridge was needed and through a little field, until crossing a fairly busy road saw you arrive at the home of Bristol Manor Farm.
As I stood at the top of the slope looking down on The Creek (what a name for a ground by the way) I knew I was going to love the place. It oozes character. One side of the ground, the side with the River Avon behind it, is mainly open aside from one small sheltered stand behind the dugouts. Opposite is the main hub of the club with the large clubhouse complete with changing rooms, bar and refreshments area. Alongside the pitch are three stands and it is from here that the old, apparently notorious, slope of the pitch can be seen with each stand descending a level as the ground heads down towards the River Tryrn. I was told that the club have put a lot of work into correcting the slope over the years and so the gradient today was far from prominent – especially compared to some grounds I’ve been to up north.
Before heading through the turnstile, I headed for the club bar. A classic club bar if ever there was one with its old carpet and retro flowery wallpaper – I love this sort of ‘old-schoolery’ though. Predictably for this neck of the woods, there were a few cider chances, but little choice of beer, so Carling was ordered as we all watched on as Jeff Stelling hyped up the new Football League season with his chums on Soccer Saturday.
Indeed, my train ticket was to get me into The Creek for £3 instead of the usual £6, although I did realise that the train ticket had cost me £2 so overall I was back up to £5; still, a pound is a pound and a brief train journey was welcome over walking further through Bristol in the baking sun.
I was heading into the ground as the teams were lining up alongside the pitch (no tunnel of course) ready to walk out for today’s FA Cup clash. To get myself energised for such a game, I snubbed usual cuisine etiquette and channeled the 10-year-old child food sentiments within and ordered a big paper plate of chips. Beautiful.
Bristol Manor Farm play in the Western League Premier Division (Step 5) and are actually one of the favourites to win the league this year. Their opponents today, Gillingham Town, ply their trade in the same division as ‘The Farm’ and were expecting a tough contest today.
By now, it was ridiculously warm, but both teams started at a quick pace without creating too much. It seemed they were cancelling each other out at times. With few chances to report home about, barring one Farm striker blazing over from close range following a corner, the ref sensibly stopped the game midway through the first half for a water break.
Shortly before the water break, I had witnessed some fun on the touchline as some sort of altercation saw one of Bristol’s coaches going over and squaring up to members of the away bench. There were a few ‘handbags’ but nothing too overboard. I did then hear one of Gillingham’s players on the pitch declare his distaste for the home team and claim that they were a “team full of roidheads.”
I had gone off on my customary lap of the ground and it seemed everyone was in high spirits in the sunshine with everyone saying hello and wanting to chat it seemed. As mentioned earlier, there were several groundhoppers in attendance today it seemed, as well as a whole host of locals who had snubbed heading up to Scunthorpe to watch Bristol Rovers or head down the road to Ashton Gate to watch City. I even bumped into a lad in a retro Sunderland shirt, who it seemed had moved to the area from his native north-east and had taken on Manor Farm as a local substitute to the Mackems.
There were a few chances to round off the half with a goalwith Gillingham going close with a glancing header across goal, before a chance for Farm was blocked by the Gillingham defence, but we went in for the break goalless.
Half-time: Bristol Manor Farm 0 – 0 Gillingham Town.
After a quick beer top up in the bar and watching the mixed reactions of the Bristol City and Rovers fans’ to their half-time scores, it was back out into the sunshine for the second half.
There were a few chances in front of goal for both teams, before the scoring was finally opened in the 53rd minute. It would fall the way of the home team. A long ball over the top saw Farm’s Ben Bament pace his way through on goal, before firing a powerful low shot in, s shot which seemed to go through the keeper’s legs. 1-0.
From the moment the Bristolians scored, Gillingham were on the attack and in pursuit of an equaliser. Once again, chances were spurned, but with just over 10 minutes left Gillingham got the goal they probably deserved. A long ball upfield was headed on and the Gillingham attacker chased on to go one-on-one with the keeper and then lofting the ball over the onrushing keeper; there was a moment where the ball seemed to stop on the line before eventually crossing.
With 10 minutes to go, I found myself behind the goal with a small contingent of ardent Farm fans – or as they are delightfully known, ‘The Farmy Army’. Genius. It seemed that fans of both teams really wanted to avoid a replay and wanted the tie rounded off today with the Farmy Army shouting on from behind the goal. It would be the away team who’d have the better of the closing stages, but Bristol Manor Farm would hold on to take the game to a replay.
Full-time: Bristol Manor Farm 1 – 1 Gillingham Town.
With 30 minutes until the train back to Clifton, I headed back to the bar. Once again the entertainment came from watching the contrasting reactions of the fans of Bristol’s two league teams: Rovers’ fans learned of their capitulation in a 3-1 loss to Scunthorpe; City fans, on the other hand, were jubilant, as they had come back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 in the last 10 minutes – the winner coming in the last-minute. Friendly banter was still ensuing between the rival fans as I exited and made my way back to the station with seemingly the same group of people who had caught the train over earlier that afternoon.
Back in Clifton, I opted to head back down the hills and towards undoubtedly my favourite part of Bristol: King Street. On virtually every other trip to Bristol I’ve insisted on heading here. I’m not sure if there’s a street in the country more attuned to my pub and beer choices than King Street, Bristol. It is an orgy of beautiful ale pubs and so I started my final hour or so in Bristol at Small Bar (DISCLAIMER: although not exactly huge, it is far from small – classic Bristol trying to be cool again). Adding to the place’s coolness is the fact that they insist on banning pint glasses and only use half and 2/3 glasses to go with their philosophy of making you try more beers.
There was still time for me to cross the road to the Beer Emporium, scandalously ignoring a city’s BrewDog bar for the second day in a row, giving me time to try some more over-priced orange beer. But, my time was up on my day in Bristol and there was just enough time to redeem my Punk IPA fandom by purchasing some for the train back to South Wales. Sadly, I forgot that my bottle opener was on my keyring for my former Mancunian abode and that I didn’t have said keyring with me. This resulted in my fingers pissing with blood as I tried to clumsily open my bottles with a clip on my bag (one man on the train looked at me as if I was maniac, as I enjoyed my beer with bloodied fingers; his eyes told me that he understood my Punk IPA love though).
I’ve enjoyed the opening 5.5 weeks of my 2016/17 adventures, but I was yet to really visit a new ground that made me go ‘wow!’ Today I had. By a country mile, The Creek is the best ground I’ve visited so far this season and probably my favourite new ground for months actually. It’s the bench mark for the season so far. A ground with plenty of character, a friendly atmosphere and sitting within one of the great cities in the country. Plus, it’s called The Creek for goodness sake. Go if you get the chance.
Highlights: free cider to start the day, trip to beautiful Bristol, good pubs, half price entry with train ticket, retro club bar, awesome ground, friendly locals.
Low Points: too many good pubs to visit in one day!
See all my photos from my trip to Bristol Manor Farm here.