Living For The City

Saturday 28th April 2007. The end of an era. City won a trophy and I stopped going to Twerton Park. You can't call me a glory hunter!

For seven long seasons I had an article in every issue of the Bath City Football Club matchday programme. I referred to this as writing for my column but others, probably more appropriately, called it 'Terry's Talking Bollocks.' I received a great number of compliments from the Bath City supporters who were able to read. Bearing in mind that these pieces were written a long time ago and that you probably have very little knowledge of non-league football in the West Country, I hope you'll give them a glance over and get as much enjoyment from them as I did writing them.

 


 

1. Start

Now I’ll bet that, as you leaf through a couple of chapters looking for rude bits in this latest discovery in the bargain bin at WHSmith’s whilst trying to kill the final twenty minutes of your lunch break and leaving greasy thumb marks on the pages from the residue of the cheese and pickle based creation you bought from the sandwich shop next door, you’re thinking to yourself, oh, here we go with yet another football book. If this is the case I think it would be a worthwhile exercise to make my position clear from the very beginning in the hope that you recognise my labour of love as a unique and innovative piece of observational writing related largely but not entirely to the beautiful game of football. A novel novel you might say!

 

I’m not the sort of bloke who goes to a football match to analyse social behaviour in humano-tribal situations and I haven’t got the “football brain” that pundits talk about. In fact, if brains are to be classified here in terms of spherical objects then I suspect that mine would fit better into the toilet cistern ball cock category.

 

To be honest, I couldn’t give a monkey’s that the real reason for my being a fanatical supporter is that my primeval forefathers had had to spend Saturday afternoons throwing stones at the people from the next village to prevent their boars being nicked. The elders of Calne and Chippenham, beautiful hamlets in the North West Wiltshire area where I have settled in recent years, still appear to encourage it and on most evenings young men drive old cars with big wheels around the place with loud and unpleasant music blasting out from speakers that probably cost more than their car did itself to ward off any would be livestock thieves. They certainly scare the doo-dahs out of me and the only thing that I’ve ever stolen was a kiss from a young lady assistant that works in WH Smith’s near where I work to kill the last twenty minutes of my lunch break. Unfortunately, this book hadn’t been written then for me to deposit greasy marks upon so I chose the next best thing. I can’t say that I’ve even considered that my longing desire for my own team’s top scorer, Adrian Foster, to nod home a couple of times a week from expertly taken corners really demonstrates the animal in me subconsciously trying to protect my family as experts in the field of human nature would have you believe.

 

Unless they’re particularly talented, tall, short or ugly or they share the names of pop stars, such as Margate’s Phil Collins, Newport’s Jason Donovan and Tamworth’s Alice Cooper (one of these names I made up – see if you can guess which one and win a lovely prize), I can’t be bothered taking the time to remember the names of the opposition players and I rarely notice whether they’re left or right footed. If there’s not much happening on the field I sometimes find myself daydreaming only to be brought abruptly back to reality by a goal, the build up to, and often even the scorer of which, I have no knowledge. As long as there’s one bloke in goal and another ten evenly distributed about the pitch then team formation is in my eyes, no cause for concern.

 

For these reasons I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to put together some of the trendy football writing that adorns the shelves in the sports sections at Waterstones, Dillons or Pound Stretcher and the basic materials I would need to produce a detailed match report would have to include the sports pages of Monday night’s Bath Chronicle, a photocopier and a complete disregard for the copyright laws of England and Wales.

 

Since 1996 my allegiance to Bath City, then of the Vauxhall Conference, more recently of the Dr Martens League Premier Division and now, sadly, of the Dr Martens League Western Division, has developed from a passing interest to a manic obsession. I have attained the status of football anorak and risen beyond to something along the lines of a U.S. Army surplus parka with fur trimmed hood and more toggle ended draw strings than you would need to tie your friend to the rail on the seat in front on the upper deck of a Leeds City Transport bus only a couple of hundred yards from his stop just for a laugh. Every Saturday I rub shoulders (and nothing more, I would add) with supporters who have followed this fine team since the glory days when the line up would include the likes of Tony Book, Charlie Fleming and Stan Mortensen – legends, every one of them!

 

The reason my fanaticism doesn’t stretch back as far as it does for some of my peers is that my roots lie elsewhere and although I have made every effort to immerse myself in a way of life that has manifested itself along the banks of the River Avon from Malmesbury to Bristol there is no getting away from the fact that I am a Yorkshireman. For the vast majority of my forty five years on this planet I have devoted my life to Leeds United, foregoing many of the luxuries that life brings for their sake. My first romantic involvement with a member of the opposite sex terminated prematurely due to my need to attend Billy Bremner’s testimonial game at Elland Road on my so called loved one’s birthday; at the age of fourteen I was strongly reprimanded by the boss man at our local newsagents’ for turning up late on the first day of my job as paper delivery boy, my excuse being that I had stayed at home to watch victorious Leeds players on the telly doing their lap of honour with the FA Cup at Wembley; and I missed the whole of April 1996 because in preparation for moving house, I went up to clear out the loft and found a huge box full of old programmes that were screaming at me, “Read us!”

 

During the days of my youth, the West Country might just as well have been at the other side of the world. I went to Scarborough for my holidays and York for my history lessons, so the City of Bath was surplus to requirements. An Aunt had been there once on a bank holiday coach excursion but no one had taken any interest in her account of the visit as she had always been considered by the rest of the family as some one who acted above her station. Despite living in a council house she cut her bread into triangles, marked her bingo cards with a fountain pen and listened to Radio Three.

 

A mid-life crisis hit me in 1996 when my employers decided that I should uproot my life, my wife and my three lovely kids to move to Wiltshire. After hours of searching through the atlas, we eventually found it on the British Isles page and chose Chippenham as the place to set up our new home. The first few months after the move were very strange. A straightforward trip to the DIY superstore took us along quiet country roads from which lovely scenery could be admired on either side. I parked my car by the flowering lily pads growing in the lazily meandering River Avon whilst buying a pint of milk for our first West Country cuppa. From the villages of Lacock and Castle Combe, right on my doorstep, I wanted to send postcards to the people I had left behind, even though I wasn’t really on holiday.

 

Soon I discovered Bath. I had heard of its magnificent Roman Baths, Georgian terraces, Sally Lunn’s House and Pulteney Bridge before but never seen them in real life. Leeds too could boast a formidable history having been a Roman city, formerly known as Leodis, before becoming a Viking settlement of some importance and later the hub of the industrial revolution, so there were some aspects of life common to both places.

 

However, what was seriously lacking in my new life was football. At first I dabbled with Swindon Town and flirted with Bristol City but, although I still retain a soft spot for both, they did little to inspire the passion that was always within me during visits to Elland Road (except on the day Forest put four past us in the third round of the 1981 FA Cup). A trip toTwerton Park made all the difference. A ground chosen by many a professional as his least favourite to visit, according to the player profile pages of Shoot magazine, it having been the temporary home of Bristol Rovers for ten years – mildly amusing at the time but grounds for a handbags at forty paces encounter knowing what I know now! Life began again for me when I went to watch a Halifax Town side fielding former United goal machine, Bobby Davison in a game I wanted Bath to lose. It turned out to be a goal-less draw with all the excitement of Glen Hoddle’s record collection but from that moment on I became hooked on the laid back nature of non league football and the thrilling but unsuccessful battle against relegation that followed at Twerton that season saw it become as much a part of my life as Guinness, the struggle against war and pestilence in the third world and trips to the STD clinic. 

 

Three of the things I enjoy most in life are watching football, taking the piss and writing. There isn’t a minute that goes by when I am not actively engaged in at least one of these so it came quite naturally to me when I was asked by a group of Bath City die-hards to write a regular column for the Matchday Magazine. Even more people asked me not to write, suspecting that from my pen would flow a torrent of derisory remarks about the two thorns in the side of Bath City Football Club, they being Yeovil Town Football Club and Bath Rugby Club (who rather cheekily describe themselves as Bath Football Club). And how right this latter bunch were as, although neither of these two deadly foes has ever really caused us any malice, in my work I am at pains to refrain from making jokes about jock strap clad men with funny shaped balls grappling with each other in the mud, at the expense of our neighbours at the ‘Rec’. Even in my sleep I pour scorn on the extensive carnal knowledge that supporters of my team’s archrivals in the real football world, Yeovil Town, have of root vegetables and how poorly documented are their debaucherous deeds in the turnip fields of South Somerset.

 

Writing has always given me enormous pleasure though the only serious work I have ever produced has been shopping lists, betting slips and sad letters of unhealthy adulation to Lisa from the popular beat combo Steps and to Thora Hird. My first attempts at football writing date back to my school days when I wrote “Man United are crap” on my geography exercise book; in an essay about Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my ‘O’ Level English exam I made reference to the uncanny understanding that existed on the pitch between Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles and still managed a pass (but not of the standard of one of Mr Giles’ passes); and a short verse about Manchester City’s Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee would have won me a top prize in one of the nation’s major poetry writing competitions had the judges been accepting entries in the toilet wall format.

 

So what follows is a collection of the articles I’ve had published in three seasons’ worth of Bath City programmes to illustrate not only the club’s precarious existence in the face of financial struggle but also my own precarious existence in the face of financial struggle (if you were to buy this book you’d be helping us both out), together with some thoughtful observations about football in general with each piece bearing a title shared with a well known song from the period from the Rock ‘n’ Roll era up to the Britney Spears era. Those who have subscribed to the programme will have already read these and have them neatly catalogued in a shoebox under their beds. For their sake, I have written some additional material in much the same way as UB40 added their duet with Chrissie Hynde as a bonus track on their Greatest Hits album; just as Thomas Hardy wrote an extra chapter about his local team, Dorchester Town’s antics in the Southern League to enhance his great work, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and appease those readers who had already enjoyed its serialisation in the Bunty; and as extra scenes were added when filming Lord of the Rings to command the interest of Yeovil Town supporters who saw it as little more than a snapshot of a typical Saturday afternoon’s events at their Huish Park ground.

 

Bath City has become the catalyst which has enabled me to combine all three of my favourite pastimes and I apologise in advance to anyone who feels they have become the target of my caustic wit. Hopefully very few will be offended by my tongue in cheek remarks (though exactly whose tongue is in whose cheek will not be decided until we start casting for the film) and by way of compensation I will be only too happy to buy any such victim a pint in Twerton Park’s highly salubrious Charlie’s and Randall’s entertainment suite. So if I enjoy writing this stuff, one or two readers are vaguely amused by it, and it raises a few quid for me and my lovely football club, then here goes!

 


 

2. It Might As Well Rain Until September

A blistering hot day in August 1999 sees a healthy crowd of 911 pack into Bath City’s famous Twerton Park Stadium to see hero Paul Bodin (most notably of Swindon Town and Wales fame), assisted by his assistant Steve ‘Chalkie’ White (most notably of Swindon Town and Luton Town fame) embark upon his second full season as player-manager. In a game against hotly fancied Burton Albion managed by Nigel Clough (most notably of Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and England fame), optimism runs as high as Clough’s first shot on goal as the backbone of the previous year’s squad, enhanced with new talent and strengthened by new leadership runs out to begin what is surely going to see City promoted from the Dr Martens League Premier Division, back to the Football Conference whence they came at only the third attempt.

 

Proud to be asked to write in the programme for this sleeping giant of a club, my start as a football writer went as follows:

 

What can I write? What can I say? How can I tell you how much I've missed you?

 

Only three months have elapsed since that lovely Spring day when our beloved City completed their 1998/99 campaign with a magnificent(ish) win against the might of already relegated Gresley Rovers at the Moat Ground.

 

After the match as I ate dinner, enjoying the opulent surroundings of a McDonalds restaurant overlooking the M42, with my three lovely children, admiring the evening sunlight as it illuminated Derbyshire in all its splendour, I knew deep down in my heart that something was wrong but at that early stage of the close season I didn't appreciate the scale of the disaster.

 

Since then only three months have passed by but it seems like ten! No football to watch for three whole months. Well, I should say no real football to watch. There was, of course, the climax of the Premiership, the FA Cup Final and the Champions League Final (all of which were won by Manchester United - if I had a hat I'd take it off to them) but no real football.

 

There was no Somerset Premier Cup and no Dr Martens League. No spending the whole week anxiously looking forward to Saturday's game. No excited anticipation on turning up at a ground you've never visited before and wondering what it was going to be like (would the angle of the sloping pitch, the availability of a roof in the event of rain, the World Health Organisation's clean toilet rating, etc. come up to our standards).  No chips at half time or a quick pint afterwards. No adrenaline rush as Paul Bodin picks up the ball on the left side of midfield, loses his marker, passes another defender and then centres to the deadly feet of Martin ‘Birdie’ Paul in the penalty area to power it home from ten yards.

 

It doesn't matter whether skies are grey or blue. It’s raining in my heart when I can't be with you.

 

There are, of course, summer sports. Last year there was the World Cup Finals in France which almost filled the void. Nevertheless, despite all the drama and incident that kept most of the population of the planet glued to a television set, for me the England versus Argentina match lacked the half time 50-50 Draw competition with cash prizes and the chance to buy a carrier bag full of old programmes for a quid in the Club Shop, to which we have all become so well accustomed.

 

This year we had the Cricket World Cup to feast upon. I hadn't realised that it had begun until my son, Sean, came running up to me excitedly shouting, "Dad, Dad, the World Cup's on telly. Nine England players were sent off and they scored six in the last minute but still lost!"

 

I did my best to watch it; after all they do try to make it a bit more interesting these days. Little improvements like not letting a game ever last more than a day and abolishing the  "everyone must play in Leeds United colours so that you can't tell which side is which" rule. They play in their jim-jams now which I find quite ironic as the game always sends me to sleep. One of my greatest sporting achievements must have been staying awake through the whole of the highlights of the semi-final between Australia and South Africa. Not knowing the result beforehand, I found myself almost sitting upright and putting off a much needed trip to the loo. I thought I had found a cure for my midsummer problem until the television pundits pointed out that it had been the most exciting game of cricket in the world ever!

 

A few weeks later at Wimbledona hot and sweaty Venus Williams and Anna Kournikova turned my mind to another type of sport but the editor of this fine publication won't let me write about it in case the programme gets into the hands of minors. Youngsters can be so impressionable these days and the last thing we want to do is turn them all into Wimbledon fans though how these two sturdy young sportswomen ever became involved with football’s Crazy Gang, I will never know.

 

So now, at last, I'm back at Twerton. The summer drought of football has been washed away by a tidal wave of optimism just as I expect our opponents this season will be drowned or left floundering by our team.

 

But for all the fun I had while I couldn't watch City play, it might as well have rained until September.

 


 

3. I Got Stung

City won two of their three opening games and drew the other. Dropping points away to West Country rivals, Dorchester was seen as a minor hicough and probably a blessing as it took any pressure off the team exerted by trying to maintaining their 100% record. Off the field the back pages of the tabloids are awash with news of  an argument about to boil over in respect of Manchester United’s decision to devalue the season’s FA Cup competition by withdrawing from it and instead entering a World Club Tournament in Brazil in January.

 

Keen to adapt a topical style to my writing I addressed the matter of the over abundance of raffle ticket salesmen at home games:

 

I’ve often wondered why it takes me so long to get from the turnstile to my place in the Popular Stand, a section of the ground so called because it is the most popular place for supporters to stand. Is it because I arrive at games too late to avoid the crowd congestion often seen in the 1990s as football becomes ever more popular? No, with five or six turnstiles open and a high standard of stewarding it is quite rare that such problems occur at Twerton Park.

 

I consider next the possibility that Bath City’s complicated ticketing arrangements make it difficult for supporters to find their seats? Again this cannot be the reason as for every game I, like most fans, always go to the same place and claim the territory which I now believe to be mine. Once I have taken up my position no mortal being can budge me with the exception, of course, of a referee tossing his coin unfavourably, City having to play in the opposite direction to that traditionally chosen for the first half and the ceremonial swapping of ends to stand behind the net in which all goals are optimistically anticipated.

 

Perhaps my advanced years and my stiffening limbs have slowed my walking pace. The fact that returning to my car after the match in time to hear how Leeds United fared on Sports Report is not a problem, dispels this theory.

 

Could it be something to do with the sheer size of the stadium?

 

A few weeks before the end of last season I heard a fellow supporter solve the mystery with one simple phrase.

 

“It’s like a market place round here,” he said, putting his hand in his pocket for the umpteenth time since entering the ground, and he was probably right!

 

The air is always filled with the sound of City fans muttering the words “Oh, I suppose so” as they get stung by the hawkers and ragamuffins selling their wares. Who would disagree though, that every stage of the run in from turnstile to terrace is an essential part of the build up to the match and these Twerton traders, as well as enhancing the financial situation of our struggling side, enhance the excitement and tension prior to the kick off.

 

The Guess the Gate Competition is always the first optional extra to confront us. Pay the man 50p, tell him how many bodies you think will adorn the concrete steps and plastic seats surrounding the resplendent green pitch and if your prediction is correct you get your money back plus lots more! We daren’t miss this as my daughter Sophie has successfully estimated the match attendance several times. Her winnings have become our family’s economic mainstay and besides, once you’ve won it’s only fair that you plough at least the vast majority of your prize back into the competition.

 

“Guess the gate? It’s a rusty thing with hinges,” I once heard someone shout.

 

Next there’s the 50-50 Draw. Another money-spinner to keep Camelot on their toes. A sort of raffle style feature where 50% of the takings are paid out in prize money and some of the rest is invested by the club to strengthen the playing squad, a little more to build on a successful youth team policy and the vast majority to replace the air fresheners in the ladies’ lavvies. I’ve never even come close to success but, if just once, the number on mine was even within a thousand of that on the winning ticket, I’d be overjoyed.

 

You just can’t knock the match day programme. Top writers, good clear photographs, marvellous advertisements and all in all an excellent read. It was voted Dr Marten’s League Programme of the Season last season but regrettably this means there won’t be an issue for the home games played at Twerton next January as we’ve qualified for an international programme writing competition in South America.

 

Admirably, the editor himself, Mr Chris Stillman sets out a stall each week to sell this mighty publication. His only failing is that he didn’t shout “Late night semi final” when City played Clevedon in the Somerset Cup. I don’t suppose he knew it would go to extra time and penalties!

 

Last but not least in line on the route to total footballing entertainment, there’s the Club Shop – a gold mine of footballing artefacts. There’s nothing quite like sifting through the boxes of old programmes to discover gems from the past. Team sheets bearing long forgotten but magical names such as Rod Belfitt, Mike O’Grady, Ron Yeats, Tommy Lawrence and Steve White. And who could survive without a Bath City key ring, car sticker or implement for removing stones from horses’ hooves.

 

I’ve done a bit of market place research to investigate if such haranguing by sales orientated personnel goes on at other clubs. The response revealed some quite amazing results as Mr. Lawrence Hill of Bristol told me that for Rovers’ games at the Memorial Ground the only items on sale twixt turnstile and terrace are Golden Goal tickets – apparently he bought one and opened it up to see that ‘March 2001’ was the Golden Goal time that would provide him with a bumper cash prize. Mr. Miles Platting of Manchester bought a replica shirt in the Club Shop just outside Old Trafford but by the time he had gained entry to the ground a new design was on sale which he felt obliged to buy on the way to his seat, upon arrival at which he found a copy of the new updated Red Devils’ sportswear catalogue featuring a new financial services package designed to save multi-millionaires as much as ten quid over three seasons; a range of helicopters and other assorted light aircraft in United’s livery (collect them all and win a free keyring!) and details of an innovative scheme consisting of an extra strong bin liner capable of holding fifty grand in used fivers, without stretching or splitting, for people who just want to throw their money at the club but can’t be bothered with all the hassle of taking the merchandise home. A special thank you here to Mr. and Mrs. Ummingmassa who wrote to me from their corrugated iron shack on a cotton plantation in Alabama to tell me that their son Isaac had applied for a carrot pickin’ job in the sun parched fields of South Somerset but was put off by the poor quality of the boiled corn served up at the Huish Park snack bar and the fact that by half past two only the husks were available on match days when the opposition had a big away following.

 

So all in all I think it’s quite healthy for City fans to be confronted by commercial activity on such a grand scale as they enter the arena. All that our market place really lacks is a barrow boy shouting “Oi missus, tomatoes only 40p a pound” and a geezer selling dodgy watches. I’m sure some referees might be interested in the dodgy watches (if they haven’t already got one) and those in disagreement with their actions might find a use for the tomatoes. They could make a nice salad to take their minds off any controversial decisions.

 


 

4. Star on a TV Show

 

Grantham Town at home at the end of August. Still undefeated and the City fans’ dream is off to a good start. Asked to sum up the story so far, I came up with the following jewel in the crown of sports journalism:

 

Publicity, it seems, is one of the essential factors required to develop the status of a modern football club and, over the years, what better medium for publicity has there been than television?

 

Back in the days when Stan Ogden was a lad there was always a Stockport County fixture list hanging up behind the bar in Coronation Street’s Rovers Return. Alf Garnet’s ramblings about “yer West Ham” were incessant in the sixties. Leeds United were often referred to in the classic sitcom, Rising Damp and the Elland Road pitch was once the scene of a search for buried loot in Porridge. Currently it’s hard not to admire the frequency with which Manchester United are mentioned on the BBC’s Business Breakfast programme.

 

Most of the inhabitants of the world seem to have a vague interest in football provided that it’s forced on them in their own living rooms. There were even old ladies in Guildford watching with their budgies when England played Argentina in the France ‘98 World Cup. Consequently, if you listen carefully on a still night in Surrey you can still hear the shrill, Trill fuelled sound of “Who’s a pretty boy then? Ooh Kevin, will he score, will he score?”

 

So what we at Bath City need is some television exposure to let the world know that we are here and ready to entertain them. HTV’s almost fabulous West Match Plus every now and again is great but we really need something a bit more prime time and countrywide. Nothing too spectacular but something watched by many.

 

For instance, I was so disappointed the first time I sat down to watch Home & Away. With that title it is crying out for involvement with football. I suspect however that our players’ acting abilities would seriously let them down (not wooden enough!) but the dummy defensive wall that they use for practising free kicks has already been nominated for the Ockers (i.e. the Australian equivalent of the Oscars).

 

Ready, Steady, Cook is another favourite. We should have City culinary maestro Sue Gillard on there showing the nation how she makes her delicious pasties. Do you know she starts off with only a sprig of tarragon, a jar of pickled eggs and a Twix? I’m sure the programme would enjoy a more competitive atmosphere if it were two football clubs competing. Us versus Halesowen Town to see who could turn out the best salmon and broccoli soufflé with the winners meeting Burton Albion for a crack at the big one – lobster thermidore.

 

Two of the most popular programmes on television these days must be Eastenders and Friends, both of which have a vast untapped potential for giving our team a plug.

 

What chance a scene where Bianca is sitting on bench in Albert Square snogging her mother’s live in lover (who is really her long lost half brother raised by a herd of camels in the Central African Republic after a Walford Holidays jet was blown to smithereens by a para-military terrorist organisation from Brookside) when suddenly she rushes off to see how Bath City got on on Teletext?

 

And just who are this teamWalford Townthat they’re always going on about? What league are they in, how do we go about swapping programmes with them and how come we’ve never met them in the FA Trophy?

 

As for Friends, wouldn’t it be marvellous if just once Rachel couldn’t go out on her special date because she had to get up early on Saturday morning to catch the supporters’ coach up to Kings Lynn.

 

The show’s format is simple in that each week they have a bit of a fall out over something of little significance and then make up in an amusing way just before the end. So why can’t they all get sick to death of Chandler’s persistent pestering for them to join the City Sweep (our lucrative weekly cash draw), and then all become friends again when they realise they can make up to six pounds an hour by becoming a door to door collector in their neighbourhood? A more gutsy, more believable and more entertaining story line, I’m sure!

 

I suspect though that our best source of televised publicity will be an appearance on Match of the Day – The Road to Wembley. Is there a City fan here today who wouldn’t be just delighted with that?

 


 

5. Don't Be Cruel

 

Moving into September 1999, the sun is shining, City are top of the league, Paul Bodin is named Dr Martens League Manager of the Month for August and the wise old man of Twerton, Michael York (known affectionately as Yorkie as well as one or two unprintable pseudonyms) true to his ever optimistic style, confirms that we might just about stay up this season, and morale on the terraces is very high but I still lack the confidence to write anything too descriptive about real football and pour out yet more of the drivel that occupies my mind. People start to complain but later adopt a more sympathetic approach when I point out to them that at least they don’t have to live with it every day, as I do.

 

When it was suggested that I write something on this page each week it was made clear to me from the very outset that I should make every effort not to mention anything that might cause offence.

 

The editor told me, in no uncertain terms, to keep quiet about the fact that ***** are a load of ***. He also told me to steer well clear of what the Physio at ******** got up to with the lady in the tea bar during a penalty shoot out last January and added that ********* and his very large ****** were strictly taboo. In fact, the slightest hint of a reference to any of these, or other similar topics, would be hit by the full force of the censor's deleting pen.

 

However, like many people who have written about football before me, I find it difficult to put pen to paper without touching on something that is just a little bit controversial.

 

For instance, it’s a well known fact in literary circles that when Karl Marx first embarked upon writing Das Kapital he had really only been leaving a note for the groundsman telling him to increase the lime to water ratio the next time he marked out the pitch for the Petrograd and District Under 11s. He just got a bit carried away with himself, that's all.

 

Similarly, when Germaine Greer wrote her book "The Female Eunuch" in 1970, portraying marriage as a legalized form of slavery for women, she had intended little more than getting a message to the away team's changing room with a few suggestions as to what might happen in the bath (nudge nudge, wink wink) after the final whistle had gone. Once she got scribbling with her mascara pencil there was no stopping her!

 

So I could do with something a bit risqué just to beef my articles up a bit but unfortunately all the really meaty stuff has already been done.

 

England's third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final, for example. Was it in or was it out? Controversial indeed, but already debated in print a million times. I could, I suppose, open up an old wound by suggesting that Geoff Hurst's 19th minute equaliser looked just a shade offside to me.

 

The David Beckham incident in the last World Cup was another matter of great controversy but which has since been exhausted by football analysts all around the world. He kicked Diego Simeone, he got sent off and England lost. What more is there to say? Except perhaps that his actions were completely justifiable on the grounds that the Argentine brute had suggested that All Saints were better than the Spice Girls. If he hadn't stuck up for his posh mate then I suspect he would have got a good kicking himself from the lovelyVictoriaand would have missed the rest of the tournament anyway.

 

Although young Becks does have his faults I can usually sympathise with him and admire some of his actions. I thought it was very moving the way he named his child after the place in which it had been conceived and then had that name tattooed across the nape of his back. I once considered doing the same myself but unfortunately there isn't a part of my body big enough to accommodate the words "Round the back of the White Swan inLeeds".  

 

Perhaps I should concentrate my efforts on provoking antagonistic debate for the future. When Bath City get to the Premiership should we limit the number of Italians in the first team squad? Should we ask for a bye to the quarter finals of the Somerset Premier Cup so that we can take part in the World Club Champions' Tournament inSouth America? Should we cash in on the football millionaires by upping the price of a pint of Toby by 2p when we play Chelsea or Arsenal?

 

Deep down I suspect that when it comes to being controversial I should play safe and limit myself to merely stating that I don't care much for rugby.

 


 

6. Silver Machine

Being relatively new to non league football I’ve only recently discovered the magnificence of the trophy that comes with the honour of winning the Dr Martens Football League.

 

Those of you who supported City during their glorious 1977-78 campaign, in which they finished as Southern League Champions, will no doubt recall its splendour as it adorned the Twerton Park trophy room. Sadly now, that room contains only Steve Hall’s bike and half a dozen tins of Duraglit which are rapidly approaching their best before date.

 

The trophy, a silver shield mounted on highly polished wood and surrounded by smaller shields bearing the names of previous winners, was stunningly large when we were last the holders. It’s a little known fact that many a victorious captain missed the start of the following season due to a hernia sustained in accepting the prize.

 

A treasured photograph of our triumphant team holding the gleaming artefact aloft in the late seventies indicates that it took more than one man to lift it. In fact, judging by the hairstyles in the picture, it appears that they even got the Bay City Rollers to help them. Woody in a City shirt - fantastic!

 

As the years have rolled by, extra layers of wood have been added to accommodate the names of more and more champions and consequently it’s now bigger than Mark Harrington. Fortunately, plans for a major extension to our trophy room have already been drawn as the team transforms itself into a machine for producing silverware and our current captain, Colin Towler, has acquired quotes for the cost of hiring a forklift truck next May.

 

As someone who has never won a trophy himself (I once entered the Whitbread Round the World Race thinking I had a fighting chance but was disappointed to discover that the competition was something to do with yachts), the thought of my team becoming the proud owners of the trophy gives me a deep sense of personal satisfaction. This much more so than winning some of the sports world’s other prizes.

 

For instance, the cup presented to the FA Premiership Champions, although probably quite expensive in its manufacture, looks a bit tacky to me. I can imagine it gathered dust on a shelf, behind the bar in a pub somewhere on a housing estate in Wakefield before someone snapped the little darts player off the top. You can buy trophies like this so why bother winning them? Alex Ferguson, had he known, would probably have taken advantage of the “buy two, get one free” offer at the trophy stall in Chippenham market and saved himself a lot of trouble towards the end of last season.

 

The pitifully small trophy that the Australians collect every time they play England at cricket always amuses me, though most Aussies will insist that size isn’t important! It reminds me of a Subbuteo replica of the European Nations Cup that used to accompany me on laps of honour of my bedroom as Leeds United beat River Plate of Argentina 14-0 in my weekly table top World Club Championship Finals when I was twelve.

 

Although a bit namby pamby, I can’t argue that the Claret Jug given to the golfer that wins the British Open Tournament isn’t at least useful (if you’ve nowhere else to keep you claret, that is). However, if usefulness is to be included in the criteria for trophy design, then surely a set of steak knives or a pedal bin would be more appropriate.

 

If I could choose any major sporting accolade for myself I would go for horse racing’s Two Thousand Guineas every time. I’m sure you can have a lot more fun with Two Thousand Guineas than you can with the Ashes, the Davis Cup and the FA Charity Shield put together.

 

For the time being, however, I would be more than delighted to see the City players straining under the weight of the Dr Martens Football League trophy.

 

Funny how they never replaced it with a Golden Boot!

 


 

7. When My Little Girl is Smiling

Before becoming a Bath City supporter I had only ever been to one pre season friendly and that over thirty years ago when the ball was a pig’s bladder and old men waved rolled up newspapers and threw their hats in the air when a goal was scored. Well that’s how my kids imagine football was in the sixties – oh, I forgot to mention the dinosaurs grazing on the touchline and the driver of the team coach scratching his head and thinking how much easier his life would be if someone would invent the wheel.

 

However, now that I’ve got City in my blood I find it very difficult to ignore any kind of match in which they are involved.

 

Early May to late August is a long time to go without football and, without the “big kick off” coverage that professional clubs enjoy in the press and on television, pre season friendlies are not only the team’s vehicle for getting fired up for the season ahead but also the fans’. Consequently I go to as many of them as I can.

 

You can imagine my disappointment when this season, due to pressure of work (it’s amazing how full the sewers can get in the summer months – I’ll tell you all about it in a future article), I had to miss the first three warm up matches. All three were at home and against teams from the Nationwide League. While City were beating Swindon at Twerton I was at work in Swindon– agony!

 

Eventually my waiting was over and I was able to take two of my lovely kids to see our lads turn out against Cardiff City. Sophie, my eldest, didn’t go as she had something better to do. A school trip to France! I couldn’t believe that she was smiling as her coach departed. When will she learn to get her priorities right?

 

The scene was idyllic with the warm evening sunshine flooding the Twerton arena as it filled with familiar faces not seen since the Spring. The aroma of sizzling burgers tantalised our nostrils as we watched in the distance hot air balloons take off from Victoria Park and rise above the silhouetted gasometers.

 

The players emerged from the tunnel – old favourites and a few new signings. Anticipation running rife – was this the team that would win the league for us or draw Leeds United in the FA Cup?

 

Disaster struck as Cardiff got an early goal! No need to be downhearted though. A very strong professional team and they were only beating us 1-0.

 

We could pull back, I thought, and we did. In fact we had soon scored three and looked invincible. Word of the magnificent feat / feet of Graham Colbourne, Mike Davis and Martin Paul spread as far as Boston, Dorchester and Merthyr Tydfil and fearful defenders trembled in their boots. David O’Leary rang the FA to ask if he could withdraw his team from the Cup (his request was turned down as another team had already beaten him to it) and, to a man, the Twerton faithful muttered the word “Crikey”.

 

The Welsh Wizards pulled one back just before the interval but that still didn’t blight my delight as the caffeine from my first half time cup of coffee of the new season reacted with my adrenaline causing hallucinations of trophies being held aloft, laps of honour and celebratory pitch invasions.

 

The second half was, as expected, an absolute feast of goals. Six in all and every one of them scored by Cardiff. Final score 8-3 to them! I’d never seen eleven goals in one game before. My previous best was eight, twice watching City last season (against Salisbury and Boston) and before that seven back in the earlier mentioned days of pigs’ bladders.

 

“We were unlucky”, I unconvincingly consoled myself, “Beaten by seven lucky breakaways and a penalty”.

 

As we walked back to our car I asked my kids for their thoughts on the match. Sean was too shell shocked to speak but Rose, grinning from ear to ear, said “It was great – they’ve started selling Crunchies in the tea bar!”

 


 

8. Meet Me on the Corner

Does anybody ever stand in the corner between the Popular Stand and the Bristol End to watch a City match?

 

During the three years that have elapsed since Twerton Park became my spiritual home I must have been to about fifty or sixty games. However, on no occasion have I ever seen a supporter from either side occupy the slimy, lichen covered steps in this part of the ground.

 

I suppose I ought to apologise to the real City fans for being so vague as they will know exactly how many games they have attended in their lifetimes. No doubt they can also remember who scored, who won the Guess the Gate competition, whether they had brown or red sauce on their chips at half time and which Country and Western classics were covered by the live act in the bar afterwards. As you read this I bet at least half a dozen of you are thinking Gravesend, 1979, Martin Wheeler, just vinegar, Stand by Your Man and Boy Named Sue.

 

Those same supporters will no doubt remember our precious little ground being full to the extent that some people just had to stand in the now deserted corner. For this I envy them but hopefully not for long.

 

From time to time some people do wander through what you might describe as the Marie Celeste of football terracing. 

 

For instance my youngest two kids, Sean and Rose, go there to sulk when I have told them off. Yes, not every trip to watch the mighty City is a happy one – it only takes a small dispute over who’s turn it is to hold the programme or a request for a Crunchie to be turned down and their day is ruined. Older sister Sophie sometimes goes there for some peace and quite while such confrontations are brewing.

 

They never seem to stay for very long though as, even in August, it’s cold and spooky up there and once Rose’s bottle of pop was knocked over by the tumbleweed as it swirled amongst the crush barriers. 

 

On a still evening you can sometimes hear the feint sound of football rattles, young men in cloth caps eagerly shouting “I say Charles, bash it out to that wizard chap on the wing”, and some of Phil Weaver’s favourite records – all ghostly reminders of long gone but happy times. Times when you needed three clothing coupons from your ration book to buy the new away shirt in the club shop and fixture list key rings were banned in case they got into the hands of German spies (the last thing you want on the back of the supporters’ coach on the long journey to Grantham is a Gestapo Agent).

 

Even the pigeons don’t go there. They say that animals have a greater sense of the supernatural than human beings but I suspect it might be because they’re frightened of Mike York who stewards the area with such pride and is always happy to share his opinions. Birds can get depressed too and constant reminders of our team’s forthcoming relegation are bound to affect them.

 

So what can we do to attract more people to that part of the ground? We could replace Mike with an exotic dancer from the Philippines? We could call Ghostbusters? We could tell all the kids in Bath that they can’t have a Crunchie and hopefully they would all go there to sulk. Or we could keep on winning!

 

I’m sure that one day in the future our favourite desolate tract of concrete will be known as Section A of the Lower Tier of the Twerton Superbowl’s South West Stand and I’ll be amongst the minority of people who can remember it being empty. See you there!

 


 

9. It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But I Like It

You will no doubt be aware that the man at the helm of Twerton Park’s public address system, Phil “Wheels of Steel” Weaver, has been asking in recent weeks for followers of the mighty City to provide him with tapes containing their favourite tunes. The plan being that he plays our tapes so we can’t complain about his choice of music – as if we would!

 

So, as a great enthusiast of phonography (I had to be very careful with the spelling there), last Saturday night I found myself up in the loft dusting off the cylinders which produce such beautiful sounds from my phonograph and form the bulk of my record collection. Choosing some music which would be suitable to entertain the Twerton faithful prior to kick off and during half time at a forthcoming match was my task for the evening and one which was not as simple as I had at first thought.

 

I had already decided that I wouldn’t include anything by the Easybeats, Losing My Favourite Game by the Cardigans or Sonny Boy Williamson’s Dr Martens Rainy Day Relegation Blues as they weren’t really appropriate.

 

What was needed was some classic tunes with a bit of a football feel to them. Not England anthems Vindaloo or Three Lions, however, of which we’ve heard so much since the World Cup that we’re grateful for a bit of an accumulation of ear wax in our aural organs to mute what is only fifteen months but seems like thirty years of hurt.

 

Incidentally, my mate Trev once tried to write his own England World Cup song to the tune of Una Paloma Blanca but couldn’t think of a suitable word to rhyme with blanca so instead he settled for Lost in France by Bonnie Tyler.

 

I considered starting my tape with a track from my all time favourite album. Most people would say that their’s was something like Sgt Pepper, or Dark Side of the Moon, or All Mod Cons, or Take That and Party. Unfortunately, mine is a twelve inch vinyl copy of the Radio Two commentary of the 1972 FA Cup Final in which Glory Glory Leeds United beat Arsenal 1-0 (a diving header from Allan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke late in the second half). Although a Norman Cook dance remix is due for release as soon as Ibiza’s clubs open next Spring, my version of the recording might not appeal to some listeners so I gave it a miss.

 

Chris, our programme editor, confided in me last week that he has got a selection of tracks from Captain Beefheart’s Troutmask Replica album lined up to play at the street carnival planned to celebrate our winning the league and a variety of cups next May. Who’s going to tell him that there ain’t no party like an S Club party and there ain’t no more depressing party than a Captain Beefheart party?

 

Looking back at other football grounds I have visited I remembered some of the records that are played to suit the occasion. For instance, at Swindon Town an appearance by manager Jimmy Quinn always prompts a chorus of Manfred Mann’s Mighty Quinn and the Beatles’ Hey, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away usually follows a Chris Hay goal.

 

At Newcastle United, as each manager leaves the ground they play Another One Bites the Dust and although Money Money Money was a hit for Abba, it was actually penned by song writing legends Martin Edwards and Bobby Charlton.

 

Bearing this in mind, perhaps my tape for Twerton should include Scott Walker’s Make it Easy on Yourself, or Hurry Up Harry (for Mark Harrington) by Sham 69 or a track by the Skids for each time Rob Skidmore whacks one home from forty yards. Mind you, the last time he did that Beethoven was No. 1 in the charts.

 

Apt as it may sound, I’m sure Martin ‘Birdie’ Paul wouldn’t thank me if he had to celebrate his goals with the Birdie Song echoing around the ground. Even he has some standards so for the sake of my own personal safety I think I’ll just leave that one off.

 


 

10. The Green Green Grass of Home

My first visit to Twerton was only about three years ago but I instantly fell in love with it. Now my feelings are intensified by the fact that we might not be there much longer – absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.

 

Despite having just moved from a house barely a mile from the home of Harrogate Town FC, somewhere in Unibond land, I had never been to a non league ground before. Consequently I had nothing to compare Twerton Park with but I knew straight away that I liked it.

 

I sat in the main stand on that first day. The seats were occupied by pigeon droppings, rather than the fat blokes with big heads to which I had previously been accustomed at games, so I could see the pitch and even if I couldn’t see I could move to another seat. Also the option of standing on terraces existed – luxury for someone who had grown up on terraces and had then had them snatched away later in life.

 

My kids, who have still yet to concentrate for the full ninety minutes, could wander around without fear of getting stood on, abducted or even worse, scowled at for blocking someone’s view. They even played tag at half time without getting in anybody’s way.

 

We bought a cuppa that wasn’t completely spilled by the jostling crowd within seconds of moving away from the counter at the tea bar and some chips that cost less than fifteen guineas. We covered them with ketchup from a bottle with a crusty nozzle rather than from a sachet.

 

There were real floodlights on top of pylons like there was when I first went to football. Not like the lights stuck on the fronts of stands at Premiership stadia today, looking like the sort of thing you would buy at B&Q for your back garden. I suspect that all floodlight failures in the last couple of seasons are nothing to do with Far East betting syndicates – the lights went out simply because no one on the pitch had moved for two or three minutes!

 

Each side of the ground at Twerton was completely different to the others unlike the indistinguishable rows and rows of coloured seats that I had witnessed at top flight football grounds. Supporters all had a good reason for choosing their favourite place to stand (the deciding factors being the proximity to either the away team’s goal, the gents, the tea bar or the nice lady that lived over the road from them or just to get away from the bloke they had stood next to the previous week) and they swapped at half time.

 

Grass grew on some parts of the terracing while some parts of the pitch were completely bald.

 

Despite the cold, the miserable November rain, the poor game (sorry lads but it was), the absence of goals, the aforementioned pigeon pooh, the lack of an a la carte restaurant filled with the fur and gold clad wives of successful local businessmen and the fact that both teams (Halifax Town being the visitors) had consolidated their positions at the foot of the league, people were smiling. Somebody even said hello to me – no one had ever said hello to me at a football match before!

 

After one match I had taken a shine to the place. After three years I am completely smitten and cannot imagine having to watch City play at a new ground. For others with a wealth of memories from supporting Bath all of their lives a move could only bring total heartbreak.

 

I’ve now been to other non league grounds to watch City play, many of which are quite new. They’re nice neat little places with lots of shiny paintwork but you can’t stand there and imagine 18,000 people cheering on legends like Charlie Fleming, Stan Mortensen and Tony Book.

 

Had my first experience of Bath City been in such a place I’m not sure if my feelings would have been the same. I’m not even sure if I would have returned. However, in football’s harsh economic climate today, I suppose we must accept that it’s better to watch a financially stable team in a cold, emotionless stadium than not watch a team at all.