Abingdon Town 2 Highworth Town 1 (23/04/2011)
A sunny April afternoon had me in the mood to go somewhere agreeable. I chose Abingdon Town, currently the junior of Abingdon’s two non-league clubs, because photos of the place suggested a smidgen of character in town full of it.
The town, just a few miles north of where I was born, certainly had it in spades. Growing up in a new town, I can’t resist the lure of a quientessentially English place like this, with historic old buildings next to the genteel banks of a river, and proper old-style pubs round every corner. OK, the drive in through the main road from the A34 could have been anywhere in the UK, but the centre could have been off a postcard in parts.
The football ground itself is across the river from the main town, with a cricket pitch separating the ground from the river bank. With the sun beating down, a cricket match taking place against a backdrop the back of a stand with “Abingdon Town FC” picked out in old style lettering, is enough to make you glad to be in England.
The ground itself could never quite live up to such a genteel setting, but it does have a stab at it. I’ve never seen a ground quite a green as this one. All around the ground, the stands, back walls, pillars, perimeter walls, roofs, pretty much everything that could be grabbed and painted, was a rich olive green. With the ground surrounding by trees, it gave the place a very rustic feel, only jarred somewhat by one corner, where two scruffy blue portacabins and a caravan intruded. At least from one angle, the tower and spire of St Helen’s Church pokes through a gap in the trees to avert your eyes. From the other side, the cooling towers of nearby Didcot power station just peek over the stand.
The stand itself straddles the halfwayline with five rows of red backless seats. I can only guess green seats weren’t available, but they do contrast well. Running to the corner flag on either side is a few steps covered terracing. A similar narrow covered terrace, fully decked in green, naturally, runs the length on one end. The other end is open, again with three steps of terracing, but is not painted green. The trees behind provide the greenery here.
The other side is filled by a more modern looking clubhouse block, containing the bar, changing rooms and tea bar. Between the bar an perimeter wall are tressle tables, forming a small beer garden area. This area, liberally decked out in St George’s Day flags, was one of the most popular areas for the crowd to gather. The proximity of the bar was no doubt a factor. Given the number pubs the town has, Abingdon folk certainly seem to like a beer.
With such an easy on the eye setting, the game was always go to struggle to match it. Not that it was a poor game. The 80ºF heat took its toll on players used to something much colder for the past six months, with two water break stoppages. The visitors, who had been chasing the title until it slipped out of their reach in midweek, were probably a little off the pace as a result, and didn’t look like a side who’d banged in 107 goals in 41 games.
Attacks were breaking down, and the game was lively but with few actual chances. It was a bit out of the blue then, when Abingdon Town took the lead, with a goal of some quality. With Highworth trying to push out after a clearance, a dropping ball was volleyed back unstoppably over the keeper to put the home side 1-0 up.
After half time, with one or two choice words no doubt ringing in their ears, Highworth looked much more determined. It didn’t take them long to equalise, with free kick over the wall rebounding in after hitting the far post.
If Highworth thought that might break the spirit of their mid-table hosts, they were wrong, as they regained the lead almost immediately. A failed effort at offside had an Abingdon attacker bearing down of goal. The keeper did well to force him wide, but with him now gone to ground, the Abingdon player was able to cut the ball back inside and coolly pass the ball into the vacant net, avoiding the onrushing defenders.
From there there were misses at both ends. Lots of snatched shots, but Highworth hit the outside of the post with one effort, and Abingdon Town should have done much better with a late chance that was dragged across goal and wide. Town hung on to win, and, as one player shouted out as the whistle blew, it was a great end to the season.