Part of the experience of this whole groundhopping lark is the ending up in places I either hadn’t considered a week previous, or simply don’t know exist until I pluck a random game from a handful of potential fixtures. I reckon over the past three years of this adventure I’ve seen more train station coffee shops than I’ve had hot dinners. I demonstrated that kind of nonsense this weekend, as at some stage during my exploits in Hassocks on Saturday, I mentioned on a group chat that I was eyeing up Bognor Regis v Dulwich Hamlet on Monday afternoon. A quick exchange with Skinner soon saw me change my mind almost instantaneously and book train tickets to Salisbury instead. I ought to find a personal assistant to slap me every time I come up with one of these bright ideas, a menacing grin forming across my face realising just how silly it all is.
I’ve lived only an hour or so from Salisbury for a large portion of my young life, but it’s one of the many cities that I’ve simply never got around to properly exploring. Monday was going to be different however. I was going to explore the whole city before the big game in the afternoon. That was until I overslept and caught the train from Brighton an hour later than I’d planned, meaning I didn’t arrive in Salisbury until half 1. No matter, Skinner and Joe had already located a good pub, leaving me no other option than to postpone my day of tourism in Wiltshire’s cathedral city.
Salisbury FC are of course the phoenix club that formed following Salisbury City’s downfall, a club that played in the Conference intermittently during the 2000’s, but that’s as high as they got. Continuous financial irregularities and poor ownership saw the club wound up, before eventually reforming and being placed into the Wessex League Premier for the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign, four promotions away from their history in the top tier of English non-league football.
The club, managed by Steve Claridge (a man who has played for every football club south of Luton, the Hatters inclusive), got a few backs up within weeks of their inception back into the pyramid by openly criticising their placement at step 5. They argued their history merited a placing at step 4, conveniently forgetting that Salisbury FC are a phoenix club and have no history. To their credit, they won the Wessex Premier at a canter in the end, but nobody ever expected otherwise. Since then, they’ve managed to reach the play-off final in the Southern League South & West, the game I would be watching as they faced up against Tiverton Town.
‘The Ray Mac’ is a fantastic set up, with terracing across all four sides, and a number of covered seats for any willing patron to plonk themselves during the rainy winter months. The changing rooms and club bar are housed within the main stand, with the more vocal home support housing themselves underneath the covered terracing to the left hand side as you enter the ground. Both sets of fans made plenty of noise during the ninety minutes, the game remaining unsegregated throughout without even an inkling of trouble.
Ultimately, my friends over at Tiverton emerged triumphant, goals from Michael Landricombe and Tom Bath either side of the break taking the Devon side back to the Southern Premier League for the upcoming 2017/18 campaign. It was a keenly contested fixture, and could have gone either way in hindsight, but the visitors converted their chances and will leave Salisbury behind to slog it out at step 4 for at least another season.
Unfortunately, the day was marred slightly by some heavy-handed, unnecessary stewarding following the culmination of proceedings on the pitch. Promoted Tiverton deserved their right to celebrate, but for whatever reason some 30 jobsworths were employed to prevent some 20 or so Tivvy fans from entering the field to celebrate with their heroes. It was a complete mess, summed up as the head honcho of the ‘High-Vissy jacket brigade’ got into a punch-up with some of the away players because he was looking for a reason to perform a citizens arrest. I wouldn’t have allowed him to organise my socks.
Salisbury really let themselves down in my book, as you know that had it been the home side winning promotion, a pitch invasion would have been perfectly acceptable. Instead, Tiverton fans were man-handled and shown no respect, before the trophy presentation was dished out in a number of seconds, and everybody told to piss off and go home. Appalling lack of grace, and the club has gone no way to restoring any credibility they’d lost having reformed. That’s okay though, the club will be immune to criticism because they had the biggest crowds at step 5.
Tiverton are a fantastic club and I’m genuinely so pleased that they managed to secure promotion this season, I really hope they make a good go of it in a higher division next year. For Salisbury, it’s going to be another season stranded at step 4, but with their budget, I’d put my house on them being in the mix yet again in 12 months time.
The three of us left following a conversation with a couple of their fans, and went back in search of some further refreshment in the town centre. After all, what else are you supposed to do on a drizzly, bank holiday afternoon?