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Letters from Wiltshire #22
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 12th Dec 2020 14:42

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…

[b]Gloucester City v Salisbury City
Monday 2nd January 2006
Southern League Premier Division (Tier 7)
Attendance 551[/b]

Letters from Wiltshire #22 takes a relatively rare trip outside the world of Colchester United, but still retains a vaguely festive season edge to it, with a trip to Meadow Park Stadium (aka the City Stadium) at Gloucester for their 2nd January 2006 match against Salisbury City. This wasn’t actually my first trip to Meadow Park, that was way back in 2004, but it would turn out to be my last (more on that later).

I have mentioned previously my father-in-law Chris – a dyed-in-the-wool proper Mancunian Manchester United supporter, and a general lover of all things football. When I became part of the family back in 2000, he delighted in accompanying me to football matches whenever there was a chance, often to watch the U’s play. They lived near Tewkesbury, so our trips often took in visits to both Gloucester City and Cheltenham Town.

At the time, we were living in Salisbury, so with the fixture list coming out for 2005/06, Chris saw an opportunity to not only watch a match over the festive period that would have some sort of ‘connection’ between us, but also an opportunity to put a little back into the community. This was very much Chris’s style, a more generous person you could not hope to meet, so he decided his engineering company (Chris was a milling engineer) would sponsor the fixture.

I never knew the precise details of the sponsorship, what it cost, what the exact package entailed etc., but I know it did include about a dozen free tickets, use of the ‘Executive Suite’, as much hot and cold food as you could possibly eat before, during and after the match, as much alcohol as you could possibly drink (and what you didn’t drink you took home with you), entry into the Supporters Lounge before and after the match…oh…and a free programme 😊. We also got to vote for Man of the Match, but more on that later.

[b]Chris and his company secretary Sally pre-match[/b]

Chris’s company was a fairly big wheel in the world of milling engineers but was actually still quite a modest family-oriented operation in both size and philosophy. With me, Em and Alfie alongside him and his wife Pam, plus all of his workforce that wanted to come along, there was still a couple of tickets left, so he asked me if I knew anyone back in Salisbury that might like to join us. That was an easy one, my neighbour, colleague, close friend and lifelong Salisbury City supporter Phil Harding was delighted to join us, as was our mutual friend Pat, another neighbour to both of us.

Em, me and Alfie travelled over to stay with Pam and Chris on New Years Eve to spend some quality time relaxing, whilst they got the opportunity to thoroughly spoil rotten their grandson Alfie. The plan was to head home the following morning, so Chris arranged transport to get all of the group to and from the ground without anyone actually having to worry about driving (did I mention the vast quantity of alcohol available?). It was beautiful weather too, a typical January day – a bright low sun, not a cloud in the sky, chilly but not freezing, just perfect to go watch a football match.

Gloucester City didn’t let us down either, everything was not just exactly as promised, actually better than promised. The Executive Suite (the only Executive Suite) itself was just a room in the clubhouse, but it that happened to have patio doors at one end which opened out onto a small patio overlooking the pitch – albeit at ground level. I honestly can’t overemphasise enough quite how much food and booze they laid one – I don’t actually have a photo of it, but to one side of our room was a table literally groaning under stacks of pretty much every sort of alcohol you could wish for, there were even bottle of spirits, as well as the usual wines, beers, lagers, ciders, soft drink, mixers, the lot.

The teams lined up as follows:

Not too many names that I know particularly well, apart from Matt Tubbs of course. Tubbs had been at Salisbury City since 2003 and was making a bit of a name for himself in non-league circles as a diminutive but effective striker. He would go on to achieve a modest level of national fame scoring Salisbury City’s FA Cup 2nd Round equaliser against Nottingham Forest in front of the BBC cameras the following season, a performance that prompted Mark Lawrenson to comment “[i]this fella, on that evidence, can play at a higher level, which is the best compliment you can give him[/i]”. He would go on to play for Crawley and Bournemouth (with loans at Rotherham, back at Crawley and AFC Wimbledon), before signing for Portsmouth in 2015.

By the way, if you think, like me, Neil Mustoe sounds familiar – he should do. Originally signed by Manchester United, and then Wigan Athletic, he played for many seasons with Cambridge United before rejoining Gloucester City for a second spell in 2004. At the time, Salisbury City were flying high at the top of the league, aiming for promotion to the Conference South. Gloucester City were just about holding their own in lower mid-table, but really needed a few more points to be confident they wouldn’t get drawn into a relegation fight.

There’s not a great deal I remember too closely about the game itself. To say the pitch was cutting up a bit was an understatement – much of it was already a ploughed field, but the level of football was reasonably okay. There was decent crowd of over 550 in to watch the match, easily their best attendance of the season, and that included two coachloads (plus Phil and Pat) who had made the trip from Wiltshire. It would turn out to be the Tiger’s record home gate that season, better even than the visit of near neighbours Bath City later the same month.

During the first half I was particularly impressed with Mustoe. He was getting on a bit then (for a footballer) at 30+, but his professional league experience really did show, which made up a bit for his slight lack of pace. Salisbury City took the lead – I can’t remember for certain who scored it – I know it wasn’t Tubbs, and I think this photo was leading up to the goal, so I’m going to guess it was Paul Sales. That seems to be despite the Gloucester City defender trying to remove his shirt at the time 😊.

I do know it was Wilkinson that equalised for Gloucester City, and whilst I didn’t photo the shot itself, I did manage to capture the ball nestling in the back of the net and the Tigers supporters celebrating behind the goal. Incidentally, not sure if it was a rule back then or not, but Gloucester City had absolutely no problem with us taking our drinks out on the patio to watch the match – an opportunity Phil was glad to avail himself of.

For the second half, we decided to go on a bit of a wander, and went over to the covered terrace behind the goal, where most of the Gloucester City supporters had congregated (like Layer Road, swapping ends was not a problem at Meadow Park). Inevitably, the only goal of the second half was thus scored at the opposite end, to give Salisbury City a deserved victory – albeit Gloucester City had by no means disgraced themselves. I’m pretty sure it was Tubbs, but I was a long way off at the time.

[b]Gloucester City 1 (Dave Wilkinson) Salisbury City 2 (Paul Sales?; Matt Tubbs?)[/b]

Having Phil Harding at the game turned out to be a bit of a PR coup for Gloucester City, and the local press and TV had a field day interviewing him, taking photos and capturing film, and I hope Gloucester City themselves got some benefit out of it. Post-match we were ‘invited’ to submit our nominations for Man of the Match (I chose Mustoe), following which the Head Coach came in to chat about our selections and basically tell us “thanks very much, but we’re going to give it to this lad instead”. To be honest, none of us had any problem with that at all 😊.

After that, we retired to the club lounge, along with about a hundred other supporters and club officials. The squad also joined us after a short while as well, and amusingly their post-match reward was first dibs on all the cooked and unsold burgers, sausages, chips, pasties etc. from the match – so much for food science!

All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic day, and one I will cherish for the rest of my life. Chris sadly passed about three months later from cancer – we knew he was ill, just hadn’t realised quite how much so. Phil had already vowed to return the compliment at Salisbury, as the two sides were destined to play the return fixture on the last day of the season. In honour of Chris, he went ahead with this, ordered one of the Executive boxes at the Ray McEnhill Stadium, and provided an equally magnificent slap-up for us all – virtually everyone in our box at Gloucester City came along in memory of Chris, including his widow Pam, for what was a very moving day.

Salisbury won the home match 3-0 to clinch promotion to the Conference South, and gladly Gloucester City also easily avoided relegation in the process.

…and my last visit to Meadow Park – yep, not just because of Chris’s sad and untimely passing, but because less than a year later it was 8’ under water following the Severn floods, and Gloucester City wouldn’t return to the New Meadow Park (same location, new stadium) until this very year.

Up the U’s

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