Stratford Town 2 Colliers Wood United 1 aet
Living in the south of England and not being a driver means that I tend to shy away from visiting Northern clubs. I try every now and then to make a journey further North and this was one of those occasions although the tie was still in the Southern section of the draw. Having run train times from the Intenet, I called at the station to buy my ticket. The assistant asked whether I was going via Banbury. I claimed that I didn't think so, but wasn't sure. All I knew was that I changed at Marylebone. Apparently, there was an £8 difference in the price. To his credit, the assistant took a minute to look my journey up in a book and informed me that i would be going via Banbury, he then sold me the cheaper ticket. Fair play to the bloke for not trying to rip me off. The journey is just over 2 hours from London and went without a hitch. The only thing worth mentioning was the group of Europeans who got on the train at Banbury, each armed with a miniature bottle of wine. They all started to drink from their bottles. After every gulp, they'd look at the label and all burst out laughing. I couldn't quite work out why. Maybe it was the quality of the wine. If they wanted to sample fine wines in England, Banbury station would not have been the best starting place. Last week I groundhopped to Gravesend & Northfleet where you see the ground as you pull into the station, Stratford is the same and it takes a huge amount of stress away, knowing that you're not going to spend the next hour desperately trying to figure out if you're going the right way. A large Morrisons is also next to the station. I hoped they had a cafe and was not dissapointed. I could have chosen their Christmas lunch for a very reasonable price. Instead a stuck with the trusty sausage, chips, egg & beans. Again, well priced and with quick service and good, hot food, I couldn't complain. I also chose an iced, fruit finger which I discovered had also been buttered. Well done Morrisons, actually an excellent choice of food. I walked round to find the ground which was easy enough. I was slightly unnerved as I saw cars driving away, so asked a committee member whether the match was still on. His reply of "I hope so" didn't exactly fill me with confidence.
My two major interests are non-league football and amateur dramatics. Occassionally. well, very occassionally. Actually, for the first time ever, the two interests combined. With an hour or so to spare, I decided to explore the Stratford-upon-Avon town centre. A strange place. A mixture of modern shops along with some very old architecture, something about it didn't quite work for me. I did however manage to track down the site of the house where Shakespeare lived and eventually died. I've always been slightly guilty that I haven't liked Shakespeare. I love so much about theatre, but just cannot get on with Shakespeare at all. His brilliance however, cannot be denied and I felt by visiting the place where he lived, I feel like I made a kind of peace.
Back to the ground where I was relieved to find the game on. The ground is surrounded by a building plant and is quite intimidating with bits of heavy machinery occassionally encroaching over the fence. There is one basic stand which sits about 100. Other than that, it's hardstanding around a low blue rail. The pitch slopes lengthways, but it didn't notice once the game got under way.
This was the first time that Stratford had played against a Combined counties league team in a competitive fixture. It's fair to say that this part of their history didn't get off to the most friendly of starts. Stratford could have scored in the 2nd minute but a header went just over. The game was very competitive and even. Colliers Wood took the lead on 25 mins. A ball was flicked through to Longley who rounded the keeper and shot into an empty net from 12 yards. Stratford raised their game in the second half and equalised soon after the restart, Robinson held the ball up and laid it off to Stephenson who curled in a nice 15 yard effort. The second half then descended into virtual warfare. Fierce tackles, scuffle after scuffle, injury after injury and every single decision argued against. The game developed into farce as a member of the Stratford management team had to be restrained for about 5 minutes and was sent off from the fence, closely followed by a colleague. Disgraceful scenes that have absolutely no place in football. Colliers Wood was then sent off for stamping creating yet another melee. The half eventually ended having lasted 57 mins.
Thankfully, a calm descended during extra time. The winner came on 108 mins as Robinson met a Mitchell cross with a flying header.
I understand this ground is to close in January as Stratford prepare to re-locate. This will never be one of my favourite grounds but it was nice to get it in before it sees it's final game. This was a fine competitive game which was unfortunately ruined by several mindless idiots both on the pitch and more worryingly, on the bench. I hope these incidents haven't overshadowed Stratford's journey to the FA Vase 4th round for only the second time in their history.