Banbury United 2 Cambridge City 0 (5th February 2017)
Although it’s taken an awfully long time to get round to coming here, Banbury’s was one of the first non-league grounds I ever saw. I certainly would have seen Wokingham Town’s old ground earlier, being by the tracks on the way to Reading, but Banbury’s ground’s position, also near the town’s railways station, means I saw it regularly when I went to away days on the train towards Birmingham.
To be honest, only one feature stood out – the main stand, and that really only stood out for having a mural featuring spectators, covering the front, long before they had the idea for a much larger one at Highbury. Rather than hiding building work, it was there because the stand had been condemned. There’s no trace of it now, being just a flat patch of grass, although the breeze block shed that stood next to it is still there.
On the other side of the shed is the most surprising feature of the ground – the existence of quite a substantial portion of proper terracing, continuing round the corner and behind the goal. The end is covered at the rear, although a record-breaking attempt at a number of pillars, and the height (of lack of) of the roof at the back makes it a less than ideal enclosure. The rear six feet or so of roof is so low that anyone taller than Warwick Davis is risking a head injury by standing there.
At least the liberal use of red paint would act as a warning, even on the darkest of days. In fact, Banbury have splashed the red and yellow about so much that this must be one of the brightest non-league grounds around, and looks all the better for it. The paint used for the seats in the stand on the other side though is an odd textured gloss, which makes all the seats look like they are dripping wet.
There’s not too much to the rest of the ground. A warm and welcoming clubhouse sits on one side. No terracing behind the other goal, but at least there’s a slope. Round the corner, leading to where the old stand used to be, things narrow to an almost ridiculous degree, which barely room for two people to pass each other. Clearly the wasteland on the other side of the fence is of high value to someone to begrudge the football ground another few feet of space.
Not too far across that wasteland is the idyllic looking River Cherwell, with a canal just beyond that. Naturally the route to the football ground take you via an industrial estate instead. At least those buildings provide a bit of a backdrop for game, and make the ground feel more enclosed than it really is.
As for the game, I usually nominally favour the home side anyway, but the programme seller calling me a young man is enough to ingratiate me into the home cause, and I wasn’t to be disappointed.
I did, however, continue my run of neutral games that were characterised by effort rather than clear chances, but after an early good spell for the visitors, Banbury always had the edge.
They took the lead after half an hour. A back header from a cross ball found its way to a Banbury player on the edge of the box. He took one touch before hammering the dropping ball past the keeper. More “expert” camera work meant that my shot of this goal missed both the scorer (off to the right of the shot) and the ball (billowing out of the net to right) from the shot. I have so many of these that I could release a football-rated coffee table book entitled “101 Great Goals Where You Can’t See the Ball”, available at all good bookshops, and in some naughty ones as well.
Banbury made it safe with just under 20 minutes left. A header from a corner was headed down, and the defender’s effort at clearing the ball saw it do no more than find the roof of the net. It might have been over the line anyway before then, but the defender looked personally defeated, probably because he knew that it meant his team were too.
In fairness, Cambridge City had a real go at Banbury for the last 10 minutes, but their shots looked more likely to break a window on a train shuttling from Reading to Birmingham on the tracks beyond than break the Banbury net, and the game petered out in the setting sun.