Highmoor IBIS 0 Bracknell Town 6 (31st Dec 2016)
One of the thoughts I’ve had from time to time is to wonder what I’d do if Reading went bust. And by bust I mean properly bust, with the club wound up and the Madejski Stadium being flattened to make way for an extension of the retail park, and future generations of Reading dad’s taking their kids round Wickes or Tesco Extra, saying “You know, I think the penalty spot used to be around here, son”.
If recent history is anything to go by, the club would reform – hopefully with a name more imaginative than AFC Reading – and would look for a new ground to start afresh. That would present something of a problem, as there’s only really one option, Scours Lane, currently home of Highmoor IBIS.
An estate agent could no doubt describe the place in glowing terms – set on the banks of The Thames, this West Reading location has potential for redevelopment – but the sad truth is that it has to be one of the ugliest and unloved grounds I’ve been to.
In fairness to Highmoor, it’s hardly their fault, as they only moved in at the start of the season, after previous residents, Reading Town, were wound up by their owners, Battersea & Wandsworth TUC. It seems the TUC, ironically, had very poor relations with their “workers” at the club and didn’t pay them, causing them to walk out. With the TUC not being willing to show solidarity with their “brothers” against themselves, they shut the club mid-season.
Scours Lane is also, despite its riverside location, not exactly the nicest part of Reading either, as the topping of all the club fences with razor-wire would hint at – coiled in copious amounts that would seem sufficient to deter a military assault, let alone local thieves.
What struck me though was the mess and random items that seemed to be strewn about the place for no discernible reason. All of the club’s facilities were in a 40 yard wide strip to the east of the pitch. Alongside the bar and tea bar was, for some reason, a table-tennis table, slightly wonky, net hanging off, just plonked on the grass. Further along was a small beer tent, empty, and seemingly on the verge of collapse. Nearby were two sections of fencing stacked aimlessly against the bushes, along with a cheap white plastic chair.
Chairs were a feature on this side, with several plastic orange ones, of the variety you might get in a school or a cheap MOT/Exhaust centre, scattered about, some stacked, one or two upturned. Some presumably empty beer kegs were beside a few more chairs, next to a cheap and functional seating unit down the touchline.
The tea bar was mobile rather than a permanent fixture, offering “Real Fairground Food”, which is good to know, considering the amount of fake fairground food we are constantly bombarded with. I didn’t sample its wares though, and maybe the food there was excellent. I didn’t actually see a Michelin star, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it.
The far side had a small cover, set way back beyond where anyone would want to stand. The river end had bushes obscuring any hope of seeing the river, while the covered end opposite, with a couple of rows of seats added in one corner, only offered a view beyond of the express trains thundering down the GWR main line, a few yards beyond the cratered car park behind.
The functional new seated stand might be dull, but it was at least an improvement made by Highmoor IBIS, and with the smart sports facilities of the IBIS club next door, maybe they’ll get round to tidying up the rest of the ground too.
If there’s any cash spare, they could maybe give a thought to investing a little in the team too, as it doesn’t seem to be the best. I had a very poor record watching Bracknell, my home town club. In nine previous games I’d not only never seen them win, I’d only once seem them concede less than three goals. It was very definitely tenth time lucky, smashing the jinx completely with this away haul for Bracknell.
Down at this level, a full five promotions from League Two, mismatches are very common as club fortunes fluctuate violently between optimism and wrist-slashing despair. Highmoor IBIS aren’t the worst team in the division – that honour goes to 18th-placed Burnham (Highmoor are 14th) who, after just 23 games, have already conceded over a century of goals and have a GD of -77, but this result put Bracknell top, which is something of a turnaround for a club that’s spent much of the 21st century plunging the depths of incompetence.
It’s be easy to patronise Highmoor IBIS for pluckily carrying on, giving their all, against the odds, be the reality is that they got thrashed 0-6, at home.
On a bobbly pitch, the game had a pretty consistent pattern, namely Bracknell would attack, get the ball in the box, and the Highmoor defence would either somehow hack it away, or the Bracknell team would queue up to have a whack at the IBIS goal. It wasn’t one-way traffic, but the home side seemed equally inept up front as at the back, and the damage could have been even worse.
So after 10 games, my Bracknell record now reads W1 D3 L6. With my first visit being a good 25 years ago, if not more, that “W” has been a very very long time in coming.