Groundhop 1881 – Ampthill Town FC

Pre Season Friendly
Ampthill Town FCv Barton Rovers FC
Tuesday, 24th July 2012, 7.45pm
Ampthill Park
Entrance £4, No Programme
Distance 31 miles, Attendance 17 (plus guests)
Like co-conspirators hatching a plan; at the end of the game manager Craig Bicknell left the pitch deep in conversation with his Chairman, Bernie Stuttard.
There is some debate over Ampthill Town FC’s founding date – including a monogrammed carpet in the club house – but the majority vote goes with1881. Of all these years, Craig and Bernie have only been here for the past two, and whilst there are many fine hardworking people here, their arrival – and the communal desire to improve – has heralded an upturn in fortunes for this rural club. Previously Ampthill Town had endured a fallow decade, and – according to some fans – their first season was one of much needed change and rebuilding, after which all the hard work really started to pay off. The first team were, last season, promoted as Runners Up, to the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division (Level 9 in the football pyramid). They also lifted the Bedfordshire Senior Trophy and achieved their best ever cup run reaching the 4th Round of The FA Vase. On top of this, the Reserves won The Biggleswade Knockout Cup. Whilst they’d welcome more of the same, going into this current season – like most newly promoted sides – avoiding relegation is now the priority.


The pre-season had started well with a 7-1 win over Stansted, but then they lost 4-1 to Long Buckby. For the third game, with Ampthill trying to finalise their playing staff, this evening we’d see a good mixture of existing players and trialists put through their paces, with a much sterner test against the Southern League’s Barton Rovers. The resulting 2-0 win was heartening for all concerned and hopefully a good indication of the season ahead. Though many players had good cameos – other than the two goal scorers – keeper Tom Kernard was the notable performer, commandingly dealing with every Barton attack superbly.
For the first half the contest was very evenly fought with the home team’s breakthrough coming on 18 minutes. A long range free kick from the left, was floated into the box where centre back, Frank Taylor, rose too high and thus headed downwards. Such was the force though that the ball bounced up through the crowded area into the top corner. Twenty minutes later, the second goal also arrived courtesy of a free-kick, this time from the right. Carefully hit towards the far post it was headed back across goal, stranding the keeper, yet giving Michael McKenzie time to smash the ball into the open net. One would have expected a fight back from the visitors in the second half but, despite some heavy tackling and industrial language, Ampthill stuck together and deservedly finished with the victory.

Ampthill is a picturesque market town touched by the past – from The Doomsday Book to Henry VIII – with a wonderful little football team trying to make history of their own. They may not be the richest club, and might be seen as the town’s third sport, but driving through the dense tree line on Woburn Road is one of the most welcoming clubs I’ve visited. Though they need greater youth development, community support, and to bring more fans through the turnstile, the club seem to have two people willing to drive this through. The Chairman and manager are planning a vision of what they’d like to achieve but, from Eric on the gate to the girls behind the tea bar everyone is pulling together. And on the pitch, whilst the opposition argued amongst themselves, it was pleasing to see the team in yellow content to work for each other’s success too.

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Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
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