St. Neots Town 5 Barton Rovers 3 (02/01/2012)
It’s fair to say that small town of St. Neots in Cambridgeshire is rather different to Bangkok, the venue for my last game. Clearly with a population of just 26000, it’s rather smaller than the 15 million strong Thai metropolis. More pressing though was that while it was 31 C at Thai Port FC, here is was just 6 C, with a wind chill dropping that to an extremity-numbing 1 C during the game.
I chose the venue, and hour and a half drive from the sane warmth of home, because I was going with two seasoned groundhoppers. They’ve been to so many grounds that this was the nearest new venue for them that wouldn’t be of the type where the crowd changes could be announced over the tannoy before the game.
The approach roads to the ground, skirting the town on the south and east, gave the impression that the entire town had been built since Russell Brand & Katy Perry tied the knot, although hopefully on rather better foundations. The ground was similarly new, approached beside a new housing estate, part of which occupies the site of St. Neots’ old stadium. Many new grounds are rather soulless affairs, particularly in non-league, where the spectator accommodation often seems an afterthought once the money-making function rooms have been designed. St. Noets’ place is rather smart though, and hints at the club having ambitions rather higher than their current level of the Central Division of the Southern League. The team they put out hints at that too, with former Aston Villa striker Stefan Moore leading the way with 22 goals in 24 games this season. Last season they won promotion scoring an almost insane 160 goals in just 40 league games – exactly four goals a game for those of you a bit slow with the maths – as the title was won with ease. This season hasn’t been quite as easy, but 4th place, with two games in hand on the leaders, and the highest scorers in the league, sees them well-placed for another promotion push.
The ground itself was tidy. Two fully covered end terraces had a full five (count ’em!) steps of terrace above pitch level, giving the place a feel of a ground a couple of divisions higher. A small stand, seating 200 or so down one side, was clearly popular with the locals. Padded seats even greeted the directors and officials of both clubs taking part. The slightly clumsy breeze block tunnel walls could have been rather better done, but the overall impression was that it was designed with quality rather than purely cost in mind. Even the far side, just a landscaped banking, was done in a way with looked as tidy as the new homes sprouting like mushrooms in autumn all around
Mind you, they could perhaps spend a little more effort on cleaning the pipes in the club bar. If Greene King IPA is supposed to taste like that then I’m more out of tune with bitter drinkers than I thought. A fair few other pints seemed to be being returned through tasting “a bit odd” so I think it wasn’t just me. On the upside, they did employ a South African barmaid, which offers the joy of hearing her ask cider and soft drink drinkers if they wanted some “arse” in their drinks. I only hope there’s never any crowd trouble there, or she’ll be ringing up the police saying “the away fans are farting in the bar…they’ve knocked out two people already”
Arctic temperatures aside, the game was good enough to warm the heart, with eight goals, most coming in a flurry in the second half. The first half had given little indication of what was to come. An early goal could have set the tone, with a Stefan Moore shot that couldn’t be held trickling over the line before a hopeful Barton Rovers defender hacked it away. No more goals followed though. It all changed early in the second half.
Barton equalised five minutes in, turning just outside the six yard box to steer the ball into the corner. Parity lasted just a couple of minutes, with a well-placed shot going around and beyond the keeper, just inside the post. Five minutes after that it was 3-1, with Moore grabbing his second from a hotly disputed penalty. Unlike the bulk of the hardier St. Neots fans, I was up the far end at the wall offered a wind-break, so I couldn’t say how harsh a decision it was. The Barton Rovers fans were annoyed, but aren’t fans always?
Barton could, and probably should have pulled it back to 3-2 not long later, but a one-on-one was missed. Within a minute or so they’d been made to pay when a cross was headed back across goal by sub Ben Mackey, just inside the post for 4-1. If Barton Rovers had got that “it’s not to be our day” feeling, it was pretty emphatically underlined just a couple of minutes later, when Mackey thumped in a high unstoppable second to make to 5-1.
Fears of a total rout were steadied somewhat when a Barton Rovers shot deflected off the leg of a St. Neots defender, looping perfectly to drop just inside the far post. 5-2, with 18 minutes left, the defensive ships of both teams seemed to steady. After six goals in 22 minutes, things calmed until a minute from time. With a three goal deficit being rather harsh on Barton Rovers, they at least added face-saving consolation for 5-3. Cutting back onto his right from the left corner of the box, the scorer of the first goal of the half, finished the scoring with the last goal of it, showing a cool finish to place it low across the keeper into the far corner.
438 people, a season’s best for both St. Neots and the Southern Central division as a whole, went home knowing they’d seen a pretty decent game. Time now to thaw out. You certainly don’t have to worry about that too often in Thailand.