Saturday 26th December 2009

Highworth Town 2 Reading Town 4
FTL FUTBOL Hellenic League Premier Division
At: Elm Recreation Ground
Kick-off 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (32 pages)
Attendance: 205
Weather: mild, rain during second half
Duration: first-half: 46:44; second-half: 48:12

I suppose there was a slight disappointing sense of failure about not managing to complete a Bank Holiday ‘double’ as I ended up with just a plain old 3 pm Saturday afternoon fixture. But there was nothing plain or disappointing about this feisty encounter between two in-form sides which produced six goals and two red cards. And I was able to plug a gap on my football CV I’d wanted to fill for a long while.

Highworth Town, nicknamed The Worthians, were formed way back in 1893 and played in various local leagues before progressing into the Hellenic League in 1984. The current season is their 16th consecutive season in the Premier Division which they won in 2004/05. Last season The Worthians won the Wiltshire Senior Cup for the fifth time. Reading Town joined the Hellenic League Premier Division at the start of last season after switching from the Combined Counties League.

With no luck in finding a morning kick-off, I got a “definitely on” and “kick-off 3 pm” when I phoned Highworth while parked at the entrance to Archdale 73 FC’s ground in north Worcester. Of course, I headed south ASAP and got to the ground around 2½ hours before kick-off. I like to arrive early but this was early even by my standards!

I’d time on my hands to play the sightseer role – the brown sign pointing down the High Street listed ‘13th Century Church and Market Square’. I also learned that Highworth is twinned with Pontorson and spotted the Post Office (which Wikipedia told me afterwards played a secret role for British resistance movement during the Second World War) as well as several pubs incluing The King and Queen, Saracen’s Head and The Globe. It was nice to see the pleasant and unspoilt Market Square area was a conservation area.

Back to the football and the ground was located just off the A361 towards Swindon. Travelling south, turn right into The Green leading The Elms by Sweeney’s Hairdressers and opposite The Fox (a pub that boasts the last pub food before M4) and the ground was 100 yards on the left.

With the pitch running lengthways from the entrance, there were two identical seated stands down the left-hand touchline, either side of an area of covered standing which straddled halfway. Dugouts were opposite on the side next to the cricket ground where there was no spectator access. The clubhouse and changing rooms building was located next to the entrance and the bar area included a tea bar.

Line-ups were announced over the tannoy just before kick-off.

Highworth (33 points from 19 games) went into this Boxing Day clash on the back of three consecutive league victories. Wins over Kidlington (3-1), Old Woodstock Town (4-0) and 11 days ago at Carterton Town (5-1) had lifted them into seventh position in the Premier Division table.

Visitors Reading Town (54 points from 21 games) arrived at the Recreation Ground on top of the table, seven points clear of nearest rivals Almondsbury Town. They began the season with a 20-match unbeaten run in the league which came to an abrupt end in their last game, played on Tuesday 15th December, which they lost 2-1 at Kidlington Town.

Attacking the Leisure Centre end in the first half, Reading got this game underway between a home side in a ‘rich vein of form’ and the visiting ‘table toppers’.

A mistake by Ian Gill led to the visitors taking the lead in the 11th minute. Graham Lewis picked up the keeper’s poor clearance and fed James Clark who slotted home from the left side of the area. Gill required treatment after challenging the scorer and was replaced by substitute Paul Haines in the 16th minute.

Mark Hughes’s deflected shot wrong-footed Haines and almost ended up in the net before Highworth levelled things up in the 23rd minute. Dan Hilder and Dave Stuod combined on the left and Steve Robertson hammered home the resulting low cross at the far post.

Highworth were awarded a penalty in the 33rd minute when Chris Grace brought down Stroud inside the area. The keeper was booked and Steve Yeardley sent him the wrong way from the spot.

However, the joy of putting his side in front changed for Yeardley two minutes later. The defender retaliated following a foul by Reading’s Hughes and unsurprisingly received a straight red card after the referee consulted both assistants.

The festive mood continued at half-time with the sound of Chris De Burgh’s ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ and other seasonal songs. During the interval I spotted a plaque commemorating the opening of the floodlights back in July 1994 by Mrs Anne Haines during a game with QPR.

I returned to my seat on the back row next to one sponsored/dedicated/reserved in the name of ‘Jacqueline Youd’. But a heavy shower forced fans to seek shelter and I moved one row forward to maintain my view of the action.

Both keepers made a decent save each just before the midpoint of the second half. Grace palmed away a curling free-kick from Hilder while Haines blocked a fierce rising 30-yarder hit by Lucca Riccio.

Reading got back on level terms in the 69th minute. Aaron Parfitt corner wasn’t completely cleared and unmarked defender Michael Hancock fired home from inside the area.

The visitors, with their numerical advantage, continued to threaten and Clarks’ header was held by diving Haines. They eventually regained the lead to take a vital 3-2 advantage in the 84th minute. Parfitt exchanged passes with Ian Brooks and fired past Haines at close range.

Hughes netted Reading’s fourth goal in the 87th minute. From Parfitt’s free-kick played forward into the Highworth area, the Reading skipper fired home as the ball wasn’t cleared. However, Hughes picked up a second booking during the celebration and the visitors also finished the game with 10 men.

Highworth Town (red/black/red): 1. Ian Gill, 2. Steve Yeardley, 3. Dave Stroud, 4. Stuart Pearson, 5. Tom Cole (capt), 6. Craig Curtis, 7. Tony Joyce, 8. Ben Snook, 9. Steve Robertson, 10. Matty Bennett, 11. Dan Hilder. Subs: 12. Kevin Tate (not used), 14. Dan Bishop (for Stroud, 79), 15. Richie Crocker (for Robertson, 74), 16. Lee Spalding (not used), GK. Paul Haines (for Gill, 16). Manager: Dave Webb.

Reading Town (blue / blue / sky blue): 1. Chris Grace, 2. Danny Williamson, 3. Mark Hughes (capt), 4. Michael Buck, 5. Michael Hancock, 6. Gary Clifford, 7. Scott Rees, 8. Lucca Riccio, 9. Aaron Parfitt, 10. Graham Lewis, 11. James Clark. Subs: 12. Tristam Dennis (for Parfitt, 89), 14. Ian Brooks (for Rees, 76), 15. Danny Brownlie (not used), 16. Dwayne Hamilton (for Clark, 79). Manager: Colin Millard.

Referee: D Sallis.
Assistants: J Cox and R Ashman.

0-1 James Clark (11)
1-1 Steve Robertson (23)
2-1 Steve Yeardley (33 pen)
2-2 Michael Hancock (69)
2-3 Aaron Parfitt (84)
2-4 Mark Hughes (87)