Bromsgrove Sporting 2 Earlswood Town 1 (26th Dec 2013)
It has to be said, there are days when I wonder why I do this. Getting up at 7 am on Boxing Day was bad enough, but as I sat in Bromsgrove’s club bar, tucking into a “festive” meal of a packet of ready salted crisps, it was hard not to think of normal people looking forward to another turkey and all the trimmings lunch.
The early start was due to the chance of seeing two games in one day, with Bromsgrove’s match kicking off at 11.30, before nipping over to Solihull for a game at 3 pm afterwards. The plan, not my plan as it happens, was to have gone to two games in Sussex, but the rain put paid to those. Thankfully the rain didn’t seem quite as bad in the midlands, although a blanket of fog didn’t seem to be in any hurry to shift. A phone call from one of the two non-drivers in my car to the club confirmed the game was actually on.
The Midland Combination does have some cracking team names – Nuneaton Griff, Pelsall Villa, Coventry Copsewood, Pilkington XXX, Racing Club Warwick, Castle Vale JKS, Barnt Green Spartak and Rostance Edwards, to name but a few. The double digit crowds and suitably modesty-equipped grounds though, would normally make a two-hour drive up more than a little off-putting.
Bromsgrove Sporting, however, despite a moniker well at home in the league, did offer something a little different. Until 2010 the Victoria Ground was home to Bromsgrove Rovers, football conference regulars of the 1990s, and had a ground that looked like it regularly held 1000-2000 people on Saturdays.
The club didn’t take relegation from the conference well though, and with the club a mess financially, and the ground’s lease expiring, a fan’s group formed their on club – Bromsgrove Sporting – and took over the ground instead.
They changed the colours of the team and the name, and Bromsgrove Sporting FC is the first thing you notice, picked out in red in large letters on the white wall at the back of one end terrace. The end terraces are probably the best part of the ground. This one was big by non-league standards at any level, and the one opposite was just as big, and covered too. Still decked out in Rovers’ green and white, the corners at either side were sliced off, forming the terrace and roof into a wedge.
The main stand, with seats for maybe 400 people, fills the side quite well, despite not being that big. It is perhaps beginning to look more than a little tatty in places, and the addition of toilet block next door, which looked to have been made from half of a shipping container, didn’t add to the aesthetics.
The other side was the common jumble of club buildings – bar, offices, tea bar etc, which don’t usually add much charm to a ground, but are vital to the club existing. The bar itself was joyfully warm on one if those days which doesn’t immediately feel that cold, but still makes you feel like your are Ranulph Fiennes braving the Arctic after being outside for more than half an hour. The footpath down the slope on the this side, possibly due to the proximity of the bar, made it a popular spot. Behind this side was “The Mint Lounge”, which despite sounding like lap-dancing bar, was actually a curry house, and the source, I’d assume, of the occasional waft of spiced food smells that drifted across the winter air.
Bromsgrove’s opponents, Earlswood Town, actually share the ground, having moved there from Earlswood, about 15 miles east, at the start of the season. They started the game like grateful guests, letting the hosts almost attack at will, seeming intent only to repel the home side pouring down the slope towards them.
Maybe that was the plan, to just contain until half-time. It nearly worked. After 42 minutes though, a ball was looped in and the keeper dropped it, and Bromsgrove’s top scorer was on hand to show how deadly he was from an inch out. Realising the ball wasn’t being kept out by magic, Bromsgrove scored again from their next attack. This time the ball was rather further out when struck, but gave the keeper little chance as it flew into the top corner.
If Earlswood thought they get more joy when kicking down the slope, they weren’t far wrong. Within about a minute of the restart they’d pulled it back to 2-1, turning in a loose ball at the back post. That was as good as it got though. Chances came and went in a lively 2nd half, and an Earlswood ball across the six yard box that nobody could quite turn in would be the last kick of the game.
With the sun desperately trying to pierce the fog, the 325 fans, many of whom were still decked in green and shouting for “The Rovers”, filed away happy with the three points, but knowing it probably shouldn’t have been so close.