Bracknell RFC 61 Coney Hill 24 (15/09/2012)
It did occur to me as I drove the short distance to this game, that faced with a chance to make the most of a bit of late summer sun, some might show rather more ambition than taking in a rugby match from the 6th tier of the English system.
It’s a place I’ve often fancied visiting out of curiosity, having driven past on many occasions. Indeed, in the winter months, anyone could stand on the Ascot Road and get an almost unimpeded view of a game.
Being out in Bracknell’s outer fringes, it’s actually in quite a nice area next to Lily Hill Park, the grounds of an old mansion house. Now rentable office space, this old house was once owned by defence contractor Ferranti. During my time at Ferranti twenty years ago, it was found that highly important paper tape back-ups of software that powered submarine command and control systems were stored at Lily Hill, where someone had rather unwisely stored them in a damp cellar. I don’t know how much we were paid to store them, but I doubt governments around the world would have been too happy to find their back-ups had largely been reduced to mould-infested mush, or nibbled by mice.
I’d gone to the game earlier than I need to, expecting to see fans in the club bar watching Worcester v Gloucester on ESPN. I was a bit surprised then to turn up and see a 0-0 draw between Norwich and West Ham instead being show, to almost total apathy. Total apathy was reserved for another screen, which for some reason was showing tv quiz shows.
I was keen to see the Worcester v Gloucester game too, as I could have done if I’d stayed at home. Despite a back-of-a-cigarette-packet-in-large-handwriting depth of knowledge when it comes to rugby, I was currently sitting proud atop a list of 40 participants in an online rugby tipster competition, having correctly predicted the winners of all 13 games in the season so far. Slightly embarrassingly, as it looks so suspicious, it’s actually my own website, so as much as I wanted a narrow Gloucester win to maintain my run, I was actually slightly relieved that the draw ended my run in top spot.
Instead I had to read the programme and enjoy the sun, and a Guinness or two. The programme was priced at £2.50, but actually came free with the £5 admission price. Just as well, as even if the programme was full colour throughout, it was only 16 pages long, and half of those were adverts. If the pricing was ambitious, so perhaps was an events calendar, which had already pencilled a “promotion lunch”, even though only two games had been played.
To be fair, Bracknell are supposed to be among the favourites, having just come down the previous year. Two wins from two, the previous being an eleven-try 78-6 thrashing of Cheltenham, did hint at optimism being justified. While the programme notes referred to the South West 1 East Division being the club’s “home”, it had tasted rather more success in recent years. In the 2001/2 season, they remarkably found themselves in England’s second tier, welcoming establish clubs with premiership experience to Lily Hill Park.
You have to wonder what they thought of the place, as it’s hardly the most developed stadium in the land. Indeed, other than a 200 seat “temporary structure” added at around that time, the ground lacks any structural spectator accommodation at all. On the other hand, on a lovely warm afternoon such as this, that’s almost a bonus.
Overlooking on end of the pitch is the clubhouse. This is a two storey affair, but only the top floor is visible pitchside due to it being build into a slope. Adjoining this is an area of decking forming a beer garden. To one side a barbecue under a tent was set up, cooking hot-dogs and burgers of generous proportions at very good prices. So thick was the burger that it was more reminiscent of a car tyre, but thankfully it didn’t taste like one.
Just around the corner was the manual scoreboard, whose young operator was afforded the luxury of a schoolroom style chair. Slightly more luxurious, were the pub-style trestle tables for people wanting to enjoy a beer from the sidelines.
Bracknell isn’t really known for its views, other than ugly 60s concrete ones, but the beer terrace is certainly a very decent place to spend an afternoon on a warm day. The pitch is surrounded on both touchlines by gorgeous mature woodland, and also at the far end, beyond a 2nd pitch where the Bracknell 3rd XV would also be playing this afternoon.
Around three sides of the pitch, rather than the usual concrete footpath, a stony path akin to a narrow gravel driveway lined the pitch, making walking round a noisy, but childishly pleasurable experience.
I’d never heard of Coney Hill, either as a club nor place, and neither had a lot of others judging by a couple of conversations I overheard. It may, according to some, sound like “somewhere in Essex”, but the club is actually from Gloucester, and they would have been keen to avoid the mauling their near neighbours from Cheltenham got the previous week. They succeeded, but only just.
61-24 sounds a lot closer than it really was, and it doesn’t even sound that close. At one stage in the second half, Bracknell were nudging towards a 50 point lead before a couple of tries added a touch of respectability. I can’t read a game of rugby well enough to give an insight into why Bracknell won so easily, but Bracknell just looked a lot better at passing the ball, while Coney Hill were much more frequent in giving the ball away. Bracknell ran in a couple of early tries and just didn’t look back. Rugby might be 10 minutes shorter than football, but Coney Hill must have known they’d be in for a long afternoon pretty much from the off.
The 200 or so fans there certainly enjoyed it though, even if a few did take the time to watch a bit or the 3rd XV playing too. On a day like this, watching sport in a setting more like a social gathering than a tense sporting event, there’s certainly appeal. Things might not be so nice in the middle of winter, when there’s little shelter an the trees are bare, but anything that can make a bit of Bracknell seem idyllic has a lot going for it.