Unite for City

Southern League, Division 1 South & West
Guildford City FC v Didcot Town FC
Wednesday, 27th November 2013, 7.45pm
Spectrum Football Ground
Entrance £9, Programme £1
Distance 16 miles, Attendance 85
One reincarnation and over a century after The Pinks dominated the former Saxon town of Guldeford, Guildford City are once again alive and kicking. In the intervening years, 1877’s Guildford FC did well enough to both “unite” with professionalism and, move round the corner where the then 1921 Guildford United played the reserves of Reading witness by 5000. Five years later, those kindly folk from the Diocese built a big church in town and United became a City.
With no connection, or comparison, to the City-United nonsense up north, Mid Surrey’s finest have also racked up a selection of silverware. They’ve had a few good national cup runs and a couple of Southern League Cups but – in two Premier Leagues and a Division One – Guildford City (MkI) also won three Southern League titles. So far, the MkII model haven’t done too badly either.
Having gone to the wall in 1974, the MkII model rose from the fairly cold embers. Formed in 1996 when the Mayor dangled a floodlit Spectrum carrot before them, Burpham FC were lured into the city under the new name.  The newly reformed AFC Guildford kicked off in the Surrey Premier league, which then changed its name to Combined Counties. They won the league – making them Premier again – upgraded the ground, became United again (keep up) and then returned to type and became a City again (that’s the MkII, to you and I), 30 years after the name had disappeared.
Soon the hindrance rules of ground-grading shat all over their fairly won promotion but, the following year they repeated the feat and eventually took their place in the Southern Central, Step 4, or Level 8 (depending on the cut of your jib). Finishing a very respectable ninth last season, City were moved sideways against their wishes. Now, instead of being the most southerly club in the Southern Central league where they’d been doing alright, they’re the most easterly club in the Southern South & West and, sadly bottom of the pile.
Whilst in theory this Wilkins’-style movement shouldn’t affect any club’s performance greatly, it should be noted that Godalming Town also moved sideways. Last (Central) season Godalming finished 3rd; this (South & West) season they sit in the bottom half. Naturally other factors will come in to play however, talking to fans on the gate last night, there is a clear impression that the impact of having to now travel, to for example Merthyr on a week night, was having an impact on player recruitment.

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Relieved as I was to see that there were enough specks in the distance donning Guildford red to start the game, staring out from the turnstile look-out post to the pitch – sitting centre stage in the athletics stadium – there was a concern emergency provisions may be needed for the hike down to base camp.
Following the meandering footpath down the bank to pitch level, one walks past stairs to the upper seating, beside the clubhouse, and out to a small clearing and the tea bar, all of which are fourteen athletics lanes away from the playing surface. Across the other side is a small covered terrace and 10 lanes in front of them, dugouts. Circumnavigating the lot, a via a couple of grassy knolls, is a pathway which could easily feature in the book of Surrey Kiddiwalks. Look as football stadia go, it’s a very new experience and frankly impossible to explain; you really have to see it first hand.
There are naturally some ground-grading improvements that will be made going forward but, sharing The Spectrum most notably with athletics, the Guildford Flames (both of which I like) and a pathetically over-crowded water slide set of pools (which my children like but I loathe) – just as the Mayor once promised – the old Burpham FC have indeed been afforded a fine location and pretty good facilities.

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Back to struggling team matters, tonight Guildford faced another bottom end club in Didcot Town. As with the warm up, throughout the game the exchanges between the sides demonstrated very little perceptible differences if any. They both battled hard, both showed flashes of good skill and both made clumsy mistakes followed by yelling at each other. Amongst the misplaced passing, a few moments really stood out.
???????????????????????????????Those highlights in chronological order saw; a leopard in a scarf watch City’s captain Ben Walshe head over from two yards out before teammate, Josh Clayman executed the best tackle of the match. Didcot’s Pablo Haysham was played in under cries of “OFFSIDE” (incorrectly), his blocked shot rebounded on to his own arm bringing cries of “HANDBALL” (correctly), the far linesman missed it, the ref waved play on (incorrectly), Haysham shot again and Anthony Hall saved brilliantly before  swearing in the general direction of his both defence and the ref (sympathetically I’d say correctly). Walshe then broke on the left, crossed deep, Clayman let it bounce once before getting a great connection but, the on target shot hit a defender; meanwhile up the other end a penalty appeal was turned down (too far away for me to tell) before Didcot scored on the break. Haysham’s pass split the defence, John Mills sprinted clear and slotted past the helpless Hall who whilst fuming loudly, for once didn’t string out the expletives.
Responding almost immediately, the ref gave Guildford the advantage after a foul near the box but, the deep cross missed all the attackers. Taylor Janes then shot over for the visitors and George Bouerman went down like a sack of spuds. Sounding more like “He’s a sort”, in his first game at the Spectrum, the chap beside me yelled of the Didcot defender “Card ‘im ref. That’s assault!” (I didn’t ask). To finish the half, Dom Ogun shot tamely at Alex Williams and, Luke Carnell headed over Hall.
Bovril over, the second half was much more of the same. Four good passes, a foul or a misplaced delivery, lots of shouting, repeat to fade… Whilst the banter off increased, the highlights before us dwindled.
Just past the hour mark, for the visitors, Kameron Abbassi’s header cleared Hall, struck the post and Mills reacted first. Ten minutes from time Sam Elkins found Ben Whitehead who instead of sensibly passing, shot wide of the left post. Before Jamie Thoroughgood’s late consolation, Guildford headed over twice, and from Tuan West’s cross Pat Cox headed superbly on to the post.
Despite the positive atmosphere off, this really wasn’t a pretty match; dishevelled would be more appropriate. It was a fairly typical, bottom of the table, six-pointer, where both sides looked very needy and, neither team deserved to win. Clearly for both sides, this season will be both long and drawn out. This may lead to even more shouting on the pitch and, even smaller gates than tonight’s, but I hope not. Chatting with fellow Hornet, Danny Roberts about the game & local football (yes, and Watford and groundhopping) I wondered how a city like this couldn’t get more fans out to support their local club. I’m fascinated by their rumoured links with Freiberger FC and Havnar Bóltfelag Tórshavn but for the locals it should mean something too.

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Guildford, the city, should be proud of their team; they’ve moved up the pyramid and graded their ground (or whatever it is). They have incredible floodlights and, on comparison tonight, a decent kit too (the other tonight looked like someone’s mum had handed out luminous bands in case they were riding their bikes home in the dark). Whilst this MkII haven’t yet achieved the dizzy non league heights of Guildford City MkI, they really could have a bright future; they just need more support. As the chap behind yelled, during a lull in the second half, “COME ON GUILDFORD. DON’T GO QUIET!”
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