Bath City FC faced off against Woking yesterday in the Blue Square South Playoff Final. Promotion was the prize, as the winner would go up to the Blue Square Premier for next season. The game wasn't really anything special, but what a day it was...
I heard that the gates were open at 12, so I wanted us to get there early-ish, as a massive crowd was expected (the final number still hasn't been announced - they must still be counting!). Myself and Will made our way to the stadium, but had to wait for our slow bitch of a friend Jamie. Eventually we got to Twerton Park around 1.15, 45 minutes before kickoff, and the lines were huge. Masses of people queuing to get in, quite surreal for a non-league football game, but it was just an example of how important the day was. We got in soon enough, I purchased my programme for £3 (a quid more than usual, bloody money grabbing Conference officials!) and made our way to where we normally stand. It was so busy we ended up standing close to The Legion, the especially vocal supporters who were obviously in good voice given the occasion. The start was delayed for 15-20 minutes to let more fans in, and the suspense continued to build.
The match didn't start well for City. Within a minute of the kickoff, Adam Connolly was injured and had to come off immediately, with Marcus Browning replacing him. Soon after, Woking had a brilliant chance to take the lead. In the 11th minute they hit the inside of the post with a vicious shot from Moses Ademola, which I thought was a certain goal but it bounced out for a goal kick somehow. The first half was end to end stuff, with both sides having a good share of the ball, but no one could stick it in the net and it finished 0-0 at half time. I was particularly impressed with Chris Holland and Gethin Jones in defence, as they were absolutely dominant in the air, and made a fantastic centre-back partnership. Sido Jombati was impressive as always, pure class, and probably my favourite Bath City player (because I am still young and immature enough to have such feelings towards grown men I don't really know).
The second half started brightly for City who had the majority of the possession and looked dangerous. Kaid Mohamed, who had scored twice in the last two games against Chelmsford, looked threatening up front, and lead the line well as usual, with his great composure and ability to hold up the ball. Mohamed was soon to make it three goals in three games: An Adie Harris pass put Darren Edwards clean through on goal, who knocked the ball round the keeper but was then taken out and the referee was quick to point to the penalty spot. We were all surprised Woking's goalie only got a yellow card, as it probably should have been a red. It mattered little to myself and the fans though, as we were all far to occupied with the penalty about to be taken. Mohamed stepped up and put it straight into the corner, sending the Twerton Park faithful into a frenzy. 1-0 and a step closer to going up! Mohemed was booked for his celebration, taking his shirt off, but nobody cared - we were ahead and on our way up!
Woking almost equalised immediately. A long goal kick looped over the defence and Woking striker Guiseppe Sole looked sure to score but Ryan Robinson was out of his goal in a flash and denied Sole with his legs, before scrabbling to secure the ball. City were safe for a bit longer. Woking piled on the pressure, with countless corners flying in to the Bath box, but the magnificent Chris Holland made sure every ball made its way back out with powerful headers - a defensive master class. With roughly 10 minutes to go, Ademola got into space and looked sure to score. From where I was stood it looked like he'd clearly beaten Robinson and had an open goal at his mercy, but he shot wide. There was more panic for the City fans, when a free kick was delivered into the box and got past everybody, except Sido who could only direct it into his own net. It looked like Woking had got their goal and tied up the game 1-1. However, as the Woking fans celebrated the equaliser, they failed to hear the referee's whistle; the goal didn't count. I'm not sure why, probably an offside but it could have been a foul on one of the City players, but all that mattered was that we had escaped. Still 1-0 to City, and they were hanging on by a thread. With minutes to go, Bath managed to get the ball back and keep it, winding down the clock and dominating possession, avoiding any more possible attacks Woking could muster. The final whistle blew and pandemonium began. Captain Jim Rollo (my new best mate on Facebook I repeatedly told Jamie and Will all afternoon) leapt into the crowd like an Olympic diver. He is a City hero, worshipped by everyone, and the passion he has for the club and the fans was all over his face at the end. The fans invaded the pitch as its customary to do on a big day like yesterday, and the celebrations began. As I stepped onto the Twerton Park turf, the smell of the grass was brilliant, and everybody had a wide grin from ear to ear on their faces. The players were ecstatic and deservedly so, as they've enjoyed a brilliant season, arguably the finest in the club's history. A brilliant day, and as the champagne flowed we all revelled in the glory.
Next season is going to be a big challenge, but for now we are all simply rejoicing in the moment, the ecstasy of promotion. Against the odds Bath City have done it and made it back to the big time, the pinnacle of non-league football that is the Blue Square Premier. Football League in a couple of years? We can only dream...
Thanks for reading.