Friday, 30 April 2010

The Tale Of Twerton Park And The Magic Bon-Bons

In the last week I have ventured down to Twerton Park, the home of Bath City FC, to watch and support my local team in their quest for promotion to the Blue Square Premier (formerly the Conference). One regret I have had this season is that I have not been able to get to games and support the City more; shamefully the match at home against St. Albans on the 24th was the first fixture I could attend. However, my lack of attendance has not quelled my support for the team, and I made sure I would be there for their final game of the season. City only needed a point to secure a playoff position and that’s exactly what they got. Truth be told it was a rather uneventful game and had that typical end of season feeling to it. The players were obviously tired, and the long struggle of the season looked as if it had taken its toll. However Adie Britton’s side, fatigued as they were, never gave up the fight and secured the point that was necessary with the game finishing 0-0. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon to watch football, and it was a nice touch by the players to applaud the fans after the final whistle.

With City securing their place in the Conference South Playoff Semi-Final, the 1st leg was scheduled for the following Tuesday evening, the 27th. I thought it was a bit bizarre to have the game arranged so quickly after the season had just finished (giving the players very little time to rest), but thankfully it gave me another chance to get down to Twerton Park and support the mighty City once more, as they went into battle against Essex side Chelmsford City.

Earlier that day, I was in the city centre with my girlfriend and we were just having a browse around town. We popped into Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, which I had previously never been into, and the missus pestered me for some sweets. We soon made our exit from the store, with her getting her way. I had decided to go for an old classic, a quid’s worth of strawberry bon-bons; I figured I would snack on them throughout the match later that evening... little did I know the magnitude of my decision.

Armed with my bag of bon-bons, my friends and I made our way to the stadium. It was another beautiful evening for football, with the sun shining on Twerton Park’s exquisite playing surface. The atmosphere was electric, with over 1,400 fans turning up in full voice, including a good number of Chelmsford supporters who were very vocal and did especially well to make the long journey from Essex on a Tuesday night. The first half was dominated by the away side, who looked dangerous every time they surged forward. Twice the ball had to be cleared off the line by the City defence, with captain Jim Rollo and Sido Jombarti making stunning efforts to keep the score level. In goal, Ryan Robinson was also tested often and early, producing multiple saves from Chelmsford’s attackers. City’s defence stayed strong and continued to keep the visitors at bay, but struggled to manufacture a real period of dominance going forward. Kaid Mohamed went close for the home team with an effort just wide of the post, but that was all City could really muster during the first 45 minutes.

The second half started with more of the same, with Chelmsford having most of the possession and desperately trying to return to Essex with a lead. However, events turned around for Bath when my Football Manager hero Darren Edwards had his shirt pulled in the Claret’s box. Mohamed stepped up to take the spot kick and confidently sent it into the back of the net, sending the City faithful into a state of euphoria. Bath got themselves more into game from then on, and with 10 minutes to go a bust-up in front of the dugouts resulted in a red card for each team. With 10 men each, the home side looked to increase the score-line as Chelmsford began to look stretched. With only minutes left in the tie, Mohamed chased down a long pass and somehow managed to cross it into the box. Young substitute Hector Mackie got on the end of this and guided the ball into the far corner, which from where I was stood appeared to travel in slow motion. It eventually hit the net and the two goal lead sent us into a frenzy - Twerton Park was in seventh heaven and the celebrations really began. When the referee blew the final whistle minutes later, the victorious Bath team were greeted with an enormous roar from us all. It was a great night and a brilliant result for City. As the players moved over towards us, every single man, woman and child applauded them for their heroic performance; it was thoroughly deserved.

And this is where my magic bon-bons come in. I don’t consider myself the superstitious type, but after the game I had a magical feeling about my bag of sweets. Without them, City laboured to a goalless draw on Saturday; but with my supernatural snacks in possession, Bath managed to withstand Chelmsford’s onslaught and score two goals of their own, taking a solid lead with them into the second leg. Nothing is certain though, Bath still need to produce a quality performance in Essex if they are to advance to the Playoff Final.

Nevertheless a ritual practice may have been born on the terraces that Tuesday night; one I hope shall bring eternal luck to the almighty Bath City football club. Expect to see me again at Twerton Park in the near future, with my bag of enchanted bon-bons in hand.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Time To Get Bullish

With the 09/10 NBA season coming to a close yesterday, the playoff positions have been fixed and the number one seed Cavaliers have been drawn against Chicago, who have spent the last month fighting and clawing their way to secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Mike Brown's men have had another successful year (Andrew at WFNY has written a brilliant season recap), and Lebron has been as spectacular as ever. Cleveland finished with a 61-21 record, the best in the league for the second year running, but it all counts for nothing now as the finish line is within sight; it's NBA Championship or bust for the Cavaliers in 2010. However the Bulls are coming into the playoffs carrying a lot of momentum with them, although just managing to finish the season at .500. Understandably the Cavs have spent the last couple of weeks with the post season in mind, so key players have been rested down the stretch, and the rest of the team have clearly relaxed a bit, hence the recent losses. I just hope we don't come out rusty in Game 1, as we'd obviously like to kick off our playoff run with a quality performance and convincing victory.

It's not going to be an easy series by any means, and I'm certainly not expecting a first round sweep like last year against the Hawks. Chicago's Derrick Rose is freakishly talented at the point, and will be hoping to lead his team to an upset. They proved they have it in them after last year's incredible series against Boston (which the Bulls were unlucky to ultimately lose.) The rest of the Bulls supporting cast is good, but not great, and they certainly have it in them to give the Cavs a hard time. Lebron will have to rally the troops, but it's obvious this is the best group of players Cleveland have had in a long time, if not ever. The mid-season acquisition of Antawn Jamison has helped pushed the Cavs over the edge; they have never looked more ready (on paper anyway) for a run at the championship. Managing to bring back Ilgauskas was brilliant too, not to mention the emergence of JJ Hickson this season. Lebron's supporting cast has the tools to get it done - it just remains to be seen if they actually can. Fans can only watch and hope, as the Cavs take on the Bulls at the Q on Saturday. Good luck lads.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

An Evening At The Track

Tonight I spent the evening at my local speedway track in Weymouth to watch the second qualifier of the Great Britain Under-21 Championship. The Wessex Raceway (located just behind the Wessex Stadium's "Carlsberg Stand", home of Weymouth FC) played host to a talented group of British riders from the region, with most of the guys from the south and a few northerners thrown in too. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable evening, as speedway usually is, with my brother and his son for company. It's been a few years since my last visit to a track, having been to see Poole Pirates quite a few times in my youth, so it was great to get back. The smell of the dirt and methanol is brilliant, and the noise the bikes produce is incredible. The racing is always intense, especially tonight as the youngsters were really pushing it in an effort to prove themselves. There were a fair few crashes as well, but luckily nobody got too hurt to my knowledge; they usually look pretty painful.

The beauty of speedway, to me anyway, is that its always appeared to stay true to its roots. It is a peculiar motorsport to most observers, and looks rather simple, almost boring to many. But the fact the sport is relatively unknown to the mainstream is what appeals to me the most. Speedway still has that grassroots look to it, and it's a real in-the-family motorsport. Fans can get close to the riders, who are just normal blokes at the end of the day, not untouchable superstars. As the riders fly out of the corners (no braking in speedway remember), as a fan your legs and torso will get pelted with dirt every lap; thats how close you are to the action - you feel, smell and hear everything.

If you ever get the chance to go to the speedway, I highly recommend it, even if you have no idea what its about. You soon will!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Opening Day Is Upon Us

The day has finally come. The Tribe are back and the 2010 MLB season is set to begin; we are only minutes away from Cleveland's matchup today with the Chicago White Sox. The Browns are unfortunately irrelevant until August, and the Cavaliers will not get my full attention until at least the Eastern Conference Finals. Arsenal are on the final stretch of an unlikely, but still possible title run. However, this is now the time for baseball.

The Indians are starting 2010 with very low expectations. After the disaster of a season that was 2009, hopes are not high in Cleveland; but I'm sure we are all glad to have the Tribe back nonetheless. The main goal for Manny Acta this season is obviously to regain some respectability, as the Indians were simply embarassing last year. To be fair it wasn't entirely the players fault as trades and injuries destroyed any chance of having a successful year; the young guys coming up from the minors were thrown in the deep end. On paper the 2010 squad looks like a AAA team lucky enough to play for a club in the Majors. This youthful bunch of ballplayers is what we have, like it or not, and they'll need all the support they can get.

It is not all doom and gloom though. Spring Training was very encouraging, particularly the return to form of Fausto Carmona. The offense as a whole looked lively, and the face of the franchise Grady Sizemore is healthy once again. In fact, the Indians emerged from the spring with relatively few bumps and bruises; apart from Russell Branyan (who we knew was recovering from injury when we got him anyway) the team are pretty much as strong as they can be. The only concern is Kerry Wood, who will miss some time. However Chris Perez,who will likely be groomed to become the closer for the future, will fill in until Wood can return. There are more causes for optimism. Our youthful pitching staff look promising, with Carlos Carrasco narrowly missing out on a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Mitch Talbot went one step better and showed Acta he is ready to become a starter. Brantley has made positive moves in his efforts to prove he can cut it as a major league outfielder. And last but not least the Pronk is fit once again, and looks ready for a 30 HR+ season.

Its set to be an interesting year, with plenty of ups and downs ahead. We just have to hope there is less of the latter, and some real signs that this ballclub is heading in the right direction.

Thanks for reading.

EDIT: As I finish typing this, the Indians are trailing 4-0 to the White Sox. Westbrook doesn't look as sharp as we'd obviously like...