Thame United 3 Aylesbury United 1
Southern Football League – First Division East
I’ve been a bit neglectful over the past few years.
Once in a while I used to always set myself a target of getting to at least ten new venues in Steps 1 to 4 per season, but for a variety of reasons that’s gone by the wayside of late and at best I might get to two or three a year now.
The rate I was going, I reckoned in ten years I could have polished off the entire Country, but I had a choice. It was either a case of travel further, or, spread the net lower down the Pyramid, and that was exactly what I did. It was easier in other words!
But, I’ve just about done all I want to do in the lower reaches now, so I’ve made a conscious effort to attack the National League, the Southern League and the Isthmian League between now and the end of the season, and get myself back on track. I’ve got over 90 grounds at those Steps to do, it won’t happen overnight, but the next few years should see that more than half.
It used to be good fun as well, trotting off to places like Hungerford Town, Swindon Supermarine and Uxbridge, and the football wasn’t too bad either. But, I’d reached a point where I’d been to everything within a hundred miles of home, so to get to a new ground I was basically going to London, beyond Bristol or the bottom side of the M4.
|Thame Football Partnership|
New Years Day seemed as good an opportunity to kick start the campaign, and with Thame United at home and a pitch inspection not required, plus being the nearest one to home, it was an obvious one (for me anyway).
I used to spend many a Saturday doing the M42 / M40 route into Oxfordshire, but I can’t remember the last time I did it now, it probably would have been a trip to somewhere like Kidlington or Beaconsfield. But on NYD, the roads were really quiet, and a two hour journey to a growing commuter town seemed to fly by.
The story of Thame United is not one of your average football club. A successful South Midlands League side in the late Eighties, they moved into the Isthmian League in 1991. Success followed with further promotions, an FA Vase semi-final appearance and narrowly missing out on promotion to the Premier Division.
|The Sun Is Out And The Pitch Is Perfect|
In 2004 under restructuring the club were moved to the Southern League but within a year disaster struck when the bailiffs were called in due to debts owed to HMRC. To compound matters the Landlord issued the club with an eviction notice and suddenly they were out of their Windmill Road ground.
However, in a twist, a deal with the ground owners was negotiated and suddenly £1.7 million was earmarked to develop a new stadium. This meant ground sharing, ironically with today’s visitors Aylesbury United, but relegation followed to the Hellenic League Premier Division.
Upon expiry of the Aylesbury ground share, a new agreement was met with AFC Wallingford and a further relegation to Step 6 followed, but the club bounced back and by 2010 they were back in the Premier Division again.
This coincided with the opening of the new £3.1 million Meadow View Park stadium and by December of that year the club were finally back in Thame, with things also looking much better on the pitch.
The Hellenic League was won last season following some last day drama, and finally the club who wouldn’t lie down, were back in the Southern League, twelve years after leaving it.
The ground is located on the North side of the town on what is effectively the ring road, and as you sweep into the large car park, it becomes clear that this isn’t just a football ground. Entitled the Thame Football Partnership, it is a large complex with many pitches, and is clearly a huge community facility.
|Is That A TV Gantry?|
The main pitch is fully enclosed and all of the facilities are housed in one grand building that sits along one side. Dressing rooms, a bar, function rooms, catering areas, conference facilities are all in situ, whereas pitch sides a bank of seats under cover provide the only spectator comforts, albeit I did feel they were a little bit shallow and distant from the pitch to get a fantastic view of the action.
A crowd of just over 200 had turned up to watch a local derby against a side with an equally turbulent history. Aylesbury United's tribulations centre very much around having to seemingly move grounds on a regular basis over the past ten years or more since
leaving the relatively modern Buckingham Road ground in the town. Remember, at one point Aylesbury had a season in the Conference National back in the late Eighties, on the back of being an Isthmian League powerhouse.
I actually made my one and only trip to Aylesbury on New Years Day in 2004 to see a cracking derby game with Bedford Town that finished 3-3, since then amongst their ground shares, ironically they spent last season playing at Thame's home.
|No Standing In The Hatched Area|
The familiarity with the venue did not help a struggling Aylesbury who were well beaten on the day by a mid-table Thame side, who started the game fantastically and took the lead in the second minute through Lynton Goss.
A second goal followed in the 13th minute via a Dan West header, and by half time the hosts were comfortable and in control of proceedings.
The visitors came out in the second half with a renewed vigour and pulled a goal back in the 69th minute when Tre Mitford scored a header but the two goal difference was restored five minutes later when Goss set up West to tap in and make it 3-1.
The victory moved Thame into seventh place on a day when only two games were played in the division, Aylesbury’s woes on the other hand continue.
It was a special day for Ellis Hercules, the Thame Captain who has made over 200 appearance for the club since joining in 2012. Today was his last game for Thame as he moves to New Zealand to work, and as a great touch both teams gave him a guard of honour as he entered the pitch.
Also a former Aylesbury player himself, Ellis is the nephew of the great Cliff Hercules, a true legend at Aylesbury who is undoubtedly the greatest player ever to pull on the green shirt. His 301 goals in 669 appearances between 1984 and 2002 makes him stand head and shoulders above all of his peers. Loyalty and consistency like that is hard to come by these days, I guess that’s why we don’t get quite as many legends in the game any more like we used to.
As for Thame, it’s an upward curve at last, Aylesbury’s time I’m sure will come, but until they too can go home, it could be a longer wait than the loyal fan base, and indeed Cliff Hercules, would hope for.
|Shiny & New|