Salisbury 1 Thurrock 1 (13/08/2011)
It would have been hard for this opening day fixture to match the drama of Salisbury’s play-off final three months earlier, but penalties, one missed and once conceded, would again be a deciding factor.
Technically this was my second visit to Salisbury. Unlike my first visit, on a freezing afternoon a few years back, the game would actually go ahead today. I even took the opportunity to have a look round Salisbury Cathedral beforehand, albeit rather more rushed than I’d planned due to needing to get change for the pay-and-display car park. The Sainsburys nearby, my choice for a random snack purchase to get change for a fiver, had a kiosk queue so slow that it risked being overtaken by continental drift.
The cathedral is very nice, and explains this small town being besieged by foreign tourists in this laughable attempt at a summer. It did charge, or offer a “suggested donation” to be precise, of £5.50, which did seem a bit steep until a notice pointed out that maintenance costs ran to £12,000 a day.
Low maintenance costs were probably a factor in Salisbury moving from their old ground in a park to the Raymond McEnhill Stadium, out in Salisbury’s northern wilds, near an industrial park and small airfield.
Like many new non-league grounds, it does suffer from being rather “functional”, but it does have a decent covered terrace behind one goal that wouldn’t look out of place two or three divisions higher up. The main stand looks to have been designed with the ability to hire out the rooms and bars, decent as they were, rather than its spectator accommodation, having just four rows of seats. A further four rows of seats in two temporary-looking stands sit on the opposite touchline. Like the main stand, these only occupy about half of the side.
The rest of the side, and behind the far goal, have four steps of terracing. The highest of these is rather needlessly marked in yellow hatchings as a gangway that must be kept clear, as if the 15 people behind the exposed far goal would struggle to evacuate if this escape route was blocked.
The game itself kicked off to the buzz not just from an expectant opening day crowd, but also a succession of microlites taking off from the nearby airfield. Thurrock were much quicker into their stride though, and it took quite a while for Salisbury to get a foothold. They thought they might get rather more than that midway through the half, when a clumsy challenge resulted in a spot kick. The kick was almost as equally as clumsy, being far too near the keeper, who dropped on it and held the kick.
With both teams struggling carve of openings, an opportunist turn and shot in a crowded box looked to have a good chance to win the game for the home side with just 20 minutes left. But penalties, the source of their joy back in May, would haunt them again today. This time Thurrock got the chance, but made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way, to the joy of the small travelling army behind the goal.
Unlike the play-off final, there’d be no late drama in this game, but a draw was probably a fair result.