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THE VIEW FROM THE AFTERNOON
By Martin Hall
Not many football grounds can be described as a cross between Lisbon’s Estadio Nacional and Oxford’s Kassam Stadium but Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground is exactly that. With numerous trees around its perimeter but no stand behind one of the goals, it’s one of the most unique – and enjoyable – football grounds you could ever visit. At a loose end in the last weekend in August, Swine went along to check out Aldershot Town versus Bradford City.
With Andy M in the South East for a few days, he fancied visiting a different stadium and as he’d never been to Aldershot before decided the Recreation Ground was as good a place as any to see. As Aldershot is about an hour away from your correspondent’s new abode, I went along too. I’m made up I did.
Situated just on the Hampshire side of the Hampshire-Surrey border and 37 miles from London, Aldershot is predominantly known for its Army camp, based in the town for over 150 years. It’s not a particularly big town, with a population of less than 60,000, but its football team is well supported. Certainly better supported than The Beatles were when they played Aldershot’s Palais Ballroom in 1961 and 18 people turned up.
The team have been a success story since Aldershot FC went bust in 1992. Like AFC Wimbledon, they have worked their way up from the lower reaches of non-League winning the Isthmian League Cup and Hampshire Senior Cups along the way. They tore the Conference up last season, winning it with 101 points. It’s a far cry from 1991 when 19-year old hank Spencer Trethewy appeared on the Wogan Show boasting he would save the club before being outed as Aldershot’s answer to Michael Knighton.
If things have changed for the better for Aldershot, the opposite is true for Bradford City. In May 2000 - the same month Aldershot lost 3-0 to Carshalton Athletic in the Ryman Premier in front of 943 fans - the Bantams secured their Premiership survival with a 1-0 win over Liverpool. The club have commendably kept their season ticket prices the lowest in the country at £6 a game despite the financial constraints that being placed in administration twice in three years has imposed.
After changing trains in nearby Ash, I arrived in Aldershot at lunchtime with time to kill before Andy’s arrival and had a mooch around the town before making my way to the ground. Bradford had travelled in numbers and it made for a good atmosphere outside the nearby pub. People-watching is always enjoyable and I whiled away the time appraising the mix of dads and lads, trainspotters and plazzy hoolies. My anthropological findings? That Aquascutum is alive and well in Aldershot.
The ground itself is situated in a park and people were queuing at the turnstiles from 2pm onwards in the shadows of the huge floodlights, even bigger than those from the Kippax. Andy arrived at about 2.30pm and we decided to watch the match with the Bradford fans - their constant singing of ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ had endeared us to them. We began what felt like a Himalayan trek to the Away End, walking all the way around the ground, up a hill, through a mad little park before arriving at the turnstile. Being tight-arses and Luddites we jibbed the seating section for £18 and opted for the £15 ticket in the terraced area. Take that, capitalism!
The Police and stewards were spot on; friendly and polite and a welcome change from the heavy-handedness and surliness of their Premier League equivalents. Built in 1929, The Recreation is a proper old-fashioned ground and an antidote to the generic sterility of so many new stadia. We took our spot with the Bradford fans on the East Bank behind the goal, even if we couldn’t bring ourselves to join in with the chants of ‘Yooooooorkshire Yooooooorkshire.’ They hadn’t endeared us that much. Strangely for such a multi-cultural city, Bradford’s support was almost exclusively white. It obviously has its clued-up element as their fanzine, the long-running City Gent, is an outstanding read.
The East Bank has an impressive barrel-shaped roof that is excellent for acoustics and the Bradford section was bouncing as the teams came onto the pitch even if the constant chanting of that irritating as fuck ‘Der-Der-Der-Der’ song was a bit too wacky for our liking.
The Recreation’s neatly manicured pitch - used by Reading Reserves last season and Chelsea’s Ressies the two seasons before - encourages a passing game and both teams looked confident in possession. It was a contrast with the Oxford United vs Manchester United match I’d watched a few weeks previously. The Conference side were nowhere near as comfortable on the ball and would have been taken apart by these teams.
The contest was an engaging one and belied its status as a League Two match. Bradford were worthy of their 1-0 lead at Half Time but couldn’t quite contain Aldershot’s enthusiasm and intelligent running. The Home team’s reaction to being a goal down was emphatic and immediate; a 20-yarder delivered with venom and accuracy from Ben Harding on 47 minutes. Shortly after that equaliser, a penalty was awarded to Bradford after a trip on Joe Colbeck. Urmston lad Peter Thorne stepped up. And missed. Goalkeeper Nikki Bull smothered the rebound.
Aldershot went ahead again through Marvin Morgan but Lee Bullock’s close-range header made it honours even for a while. The game was won for Aldershot by Reading loanee Scott Davies on 86 minutes sending the majority of the 3,805 fans into delirium at their team’s first victory in the Football League since 1992.
Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment but for Aldershot fans 16 years of anticipation made the moment a poignantly pleasurable one. Top-flight football can often lack a certain romance and, as a refreshing alternative, Aldershot Town is well worth a visit. You probably couldn’t see for the floodlights but…
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