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Bostik Matchday: The Beautiful Game

By Ian Townsend

Bury Town took on Romford. The football was moribund, but the people were magnificent. And the music didn't include Paul McCartney.

Ram:

1. A projectile for forcing something open or apart
2. The second solo album from Paul McCartney
3. An uncastrated male sheep who previously resided on land now occupied by Bury Town FC

Nobody seems entirely sure why Ram Meadow in Bury St Edmunds is so named, although given that much of the town was surrounded by grazing land for most of its history, and that wool manufacturing was its primary trade in the medieval period, you can probably put two and two together and come up with a number rather close to four. What we can certainly be clear about is that it wasn’t named after the album by McCartney, a selection of music so awful that the critics hated it and the standout tune is probably Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. If you’ve never heard that, ask your grandparents- if they can remember it then they’ll probably pull a face rather like that of a male sheep about to be castrated.

And they claimed that Yoko Ono’s relationship with John Lennon broke up the Beatles- on the basis of this record it was more likely to have been the musical influence of Linda McCartney.

Ram Meadow is very highly rated by supporters from across the Bostik League. In our annual surveys it has been described as ‘picturesque,’ ‘atmospheric,’ and ‘a proper old football ground.’ It was also described as ‘not fit for purpose’ by Blues Chairman Russell Ward only two short years ago after a proposed move to a multi-purpose venue in nearby Moreton Hall fell through. The club have invested heavily in it since then, however, building a fabulous new clubhouse, but only partly through choice- the ground is owned by the local Borough Council and on land earmarked for housing, which leaves them in limbo (this seems to be a common theme across our league- see previous articles on Burgess Hill Town and compare the similarities) and unable to plan for their long-term future.

Charlie of Bury Town- responsible for some beautiful white lines

Charlie of Bury Town- responsible for some beautiful white lines

Town finished last season in ninth place in the North Division, never really troubling the playoff race despite having the goals of Cemal Ramadan- only Matthew Price at Heybridge Swifts scored more. The striker had since moved on to Leiston, now in the Evo-Stik Premier Division Central, but this hadn’t really dampened the optimism around the ground, which was recently renamed the Denny Bros Stadium after Town signed a deal with a local printing firm. A number of new signings have been brought in, and home fans this afternoon were positive that the season would be a good one. That said, there was one less positive topic of conversation that came up again and again. Tommy Robinson.

No, not that one.

The opening day saw defeat at Felixstowe and Walton United. That match featured a first half red card for Robinson which was subsequently appealed, and it is quite possible that it was a decision which cost the away side the match. They were a goal behind at that point, and went three down before scoring a consolation, but video of the challenge that brought the dismissal has been widely viewed and commented on via social media, with opinion generally supporting the Blues view that the card was rather over-zealous. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the truth is that this Tommy Robinson hasn’t been freed and will have to serve his sentence. And by the way, Tommy Robinson is his real name- the only Lennon connected with this story is the bloke who used to work with McCartney before the latter started making dreadful music.

The views of the home faithful were quite clearly summed up by Charlie, who also explained that when not standing on the terraces he was responsible for the pitch markings. “It was a diabolical decision.” No sitting on the fence for Charlie. “A red card for a 50/50 challenge, a decision that nobody else in the ground but the referee understood, and a decision that ruined what was shaping up to be an excellent game. Then in the second half when we were 3-1 down the ref gave us a free kick for a challenge that was quite clearly in the box- even the Felixstowe fans were surprised when no penalty was given. If we’d have scored then, what a finish to the match we’d have had.”

Romford fans Brian, Mike, Dave and Alan

Romford fans Brian, Mike, Dave and Alan

Asked about the season ahead, Charlie was quite certain of a successful outcome. “We get better year on year under Ben. We’ve got a good squad, and nobody in the league plays more entertaining football. Doing better than last season will put us somewhere near the playoffs, and then, who knows?”

Perhaps today would be the day that kick-started Bury Town’s season? After all, their opponents were Romford, the side who escaped relegation last season only because of a last-gasp last day win coupled with a defeat for Norwich United, and the side who nearly all of our supporters in this season’s survey predicted wouldn’t escape the dumper this time? And yet…the Boro had started the new season like a rocket. A three-nil victory over new boys Great Wakering Rovers at their new (temporary) home ground of East Thurrock United’s Rookery Hill last Saturday had sent them into third place and threatened them with altitude sickness.

Romford supporter Mike Woods was also filled with early season positivity, and not just because of last weekends result. “We started last season with a squad we knew wasn’t good enough to compete. This season we’re far stronger, and hopefully watching football will be a lot more relaxing! I’m a realist, we’ll play better sides than Great Wakering, but we look so much better than at this time last year. But I suppose last season we just had to stay out of the one relegation place, this year we need to keep away from two of them!” Mike was quite willing to talk about the pain of last season, and the turnaround to the campaign that led to that last day survival. “That match was one of the greatest moments of my many years watching football. But the last third of the season we were one of the form sides.”

“We have to be realists,” he went on. “We have no budget and have to pick up players discarded from other clubs, players looking for a new chance- and we can’t pay them so we are always in danger of them leaving for a better offer. But”- and here he paused- “we looked good last weekend!” Asked for a score prediction he said he’d be happy with a repeat of last year (a draw).

After running out to a blast of Thin Lizzy (‘The Boys are Back in Town’) the home side got proceedings underway, the visitors kicking towards the car park. After a rather low-key start, Romford got the first corner in the fifth minute, but delivered it directly into the arms of Bury keeper Luis Tibbles. Boro had the first shot of the game, too, a strike from Jonathon Nzengo deflected and then cleared, but both sides spent the opening exchanges trying to feel their way into the game and created little.

Expectant home supporters at Ram Meadow

Expectant home supporters at Ram Meadow

They had contrasting styles. Romford were set up to deliver an early ball into Nzengo and his strike partner Roddy Lemba, whilst Bury were looking to pass their way to success. It was the latter approach that first began to pay dividends, as John Kennedy and Jake Chambers-Shaw tried to get control of the midfield. A shot from Kennedy, fired in from the edge of the box at pace, was only stopped by a desperate block, and two minutes later a mazy run from Chambers-Shaw was only stopped by a foul from Danny Cossington. A moment after that Chambers-Shaw tried a shot which went just wide, hitting the front of the terrace roof just behind the goal. The home fans were encouraged.

The breakthrough almost arrived in the 20th minute. A burst through the middle from Ryan Jolland led to a great pass to Ollie Hughes, who shot across the keeper only to see the ball bounce back off the post, allowing a defender to desperately hack it out for a corner. The next ball into the box was plucked out of the air by keeper Rhys Hughes with his namesake desperately trying to get his head to it. And yet the first goal almost came at the other end, Kris Newby skewing a shot wide after Lemba created space and laid it back. He should have done better.

On 25 minutes Hughes worked hard to create himself shooting space, the ball cleared from just in front of the line, before there was a stoppage after Daniel Jones had to come on for Nick Reynolds, the centre back pulling up- or rather sitting down- with an injury. Chambers-Shaw pulled a shot wide of the post just after the restart, and Bury continued to look the most likely to score without actually managing a breakthrough. Romford then had to make another change, substitute Golden Igbineweka coming on for Kris Newby as well as winning the prize for best name of the weekend (and almost giving the PA announcer a coronary). Joking aside, two enforced changes within half an hour seemed rather unlucky.

Romford weren’t downhearted, and the next two chances came their way, Jones and Lemba testing Tibbles- although the keeper was more tested by a terrible backpass which he had to save with his body- or his arm, if you were on the Romford bench. Tibbles then had to fashion a double save from Jones, as the away side were suddenly on top, but it seemed that we’d enter the break goalless.

Romford celebrate

Romford celebrate

Romford had other ideas, however. Just before the break a mazy run from Nzengo caused panic in the home box, his shot eventually being deflected for a corner. The ball was whipped in and seemed to evade every player including the goalkeeper, ending up in the back of the net. Boro were ahead- and what a time to score- the goal eventually given to Lemba who apparently got a touch which couldn't be seen from the main stand. Half time arrived to a few home grumbles and a discussion amongst the fans about how Ipswich Town were doing, whilst Brandon Flowers sang that he was caught in the crossfire. A few of the Bury defenders were undoubtedly about to be caught in Ben Chenery’s crossfire after the way they’d gone to sleep a moment earlier.

Two minutes after the restart it should have been 0-2. A mistake, an incisive pass, and a shot pulled wide by Jones with the goal gaping. Bury had looked assured earlier in the match, but were now rocking. Lemba, particularly, was causing their back line all sorts of problems.

It took ten minutes for Town to really get going. From a corner a header from Ryan Gibbs was cleared off the line, and a minute later a shot from the same player was blocked- but again Romford went forward and created a chance of their own, Greg Akpele only thwarted by a last ditch tackle. And then the game entered a period in the doldrums, littered with mistakes and with Romford happy to contain the home side, who didn’t look likely to find a way through. The crowd of 296 had become strangely listless, which somewhat resembled the game they were watching at this point.

Chenery made a change. Off came Kennedy, on went Emmanuel Machaya, and the substitute made an instant impact, taking on the full back before cutting inside and firing in a shot which Hughes saved with some difficulty to his right. But Romford were soon on the front foot once more, Akpele bringing a save from Tibbles before Kurt Smith- who has never been a member of Tears for Fears- fired a free kick wide. Chambers-Shaw, who had gone strangely-quiet, was then swapped for Tanner Call as we entered the last quarter of an hour with Bury desperate to grab something from the game. A shot from Joe White, which cleared the bar, was the closest they got, before the same player charged forward to try once more, this time his effort being deflected for a corner. The ball floated in, it seemed that Kyran Clements was going to head home and we held our breath, only for Hughes to make a save. White was then replaced by Joshua Revell- a last throw of the dice with eight minutes left.

A last-gasp Bury equaliser

A last-gasp Bury equaliser

It paid off.

In the eighty fourth minute Bury finally found their way. Great work from Hughes down the right, a fabulous delivery, and Call was there to force the ball home. Buoyed by this, could the home side grab what had seemed an unlikely three points?

Romford responded. Two corners in quick succession put the home defence under pressure, and then Boro sub Ernest Okoh ghosted past two defenders before forcing another good save from Tibbles. Four added minutes were announced, and a run from Nzengo forced a desperate clearance from the home defence. And then, controversy! A shot from Okoh ended up looping into the home net, but the referee had blown the whistle for a foul shortly before the ball had been played. Romford protested, whilst the Bury fans in the main stand breathed a sigh of relief. And then it was over. Boro fan Mike might have said before the game that he’d be happy with a point, but where’s the betting he would head home a little disappointed?

Bury St Edmunds is a beautiful town. Sadly those who visited it today and then headed to Ram Meadow didn’t get beautiful football to match, but there were other beauties on offer- and they were neither sporting nor architectural.

Ram Meadow

Ram Meadow

Non League football fans are generally warm and welcoming. The Bostik League prides itself on having some of the very best, but Bury Town take that to a new level. The famous saying by Maya Angelou suggests that people ‘won’t remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but will always remember how you made them feel.’ Well from Lawrence in the club shop, to Ian from the Board, to Charlie the line-maker, through to PA Announcer, tea bar staff, stewards and the fans lining the perimeter, the way they made people feel was not only welcome, but welcomed. As Lawrence explained before the match, “We’ve some really friendly folk here. They love their football, and they love people to come and watch it with them. They might not want the visitors to win, but they always want them to have a good time.”

Well they managed both today. And if Ben Chenery can get his side to perform consistently the way they played for around fifteen minutes of the first half, then these natives of Suffolk might have some football worth loving this season, too.

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