Sometimes watching amateur football is a thankless task. As I made my way into Estádio da Leaze for our league fixture against Longwell Green Sports, pausing briefly to re-erect the Bristol Rovers CT flags that had been blown over in the day’s gales, I suspected that today was going to be one of those times.
It had been a fairly damp December so far and today was bitterly cold to boot. Gasheads had witnessed a strange 4-2 victory against Sol Campbell’s struggling Southend United side the previous afternoon and myself along with c. 30 other hardy souls were here to keep the party going as the Gassy Lassies went on the hunt for yet another league victory.
Gaffer Nathan Hallett-Young was obviously feeling confident enough to experiment as there were five development squad players starting today. Having attended quite a few reserve games earlier on in the season I certainly feel like a number of those girls have made their case for consideration and it’s good to see their efforts being rewarded and the women’s team mirroring the men’s by showing a clear path from the development/academy sides to the first team.
The opening phases of the match weren’t the best with Rovers repeatedly failing to accommodate for the wind when crossing the ball. Jamie-Leigh Worlock went off early with an injury and the home crowd settled in expecting the second difficult first half of the weekend.
As the weather began to turn the limitations of Lockleaze Sports Centre as a football venue were thrust to centre stage. There really isn’t any cover to speak of for spectators and we had to compete with a children’s party for space in the main room. Though the spectacle of a jobbing kids entertainer sidling past a corridor full of soggy football fans in a bedazzling clown outfit was an enjoyable one.
After much huffing and puffing the home side opened the scoring at around the half-hour mark. A Rossana Rocha free kick from distance smashed the upright and what should have been an easy tidy-up for the Longwell Green keeper was unfortunately fumbled into the path of Kiera Madden who gently persuaded the ball over the line. A very funny goal.
Our reward for pulling ahead was a deluge of BB sized hailstones that lasted the rest of the half and saw the small crowd choosing to either huddle underneath the tiny amount of roofing that extends over part of the viewing balcony or squeezing in by one of the few corridor windows that you can see the pitch from. Dedication to rival Hartlepool away on a Tuesday night if you ask me. Special shout goes to matchday photographer Rich who was getting another absolute pummelling in the name of grassroots football.
Despite our lead it has to be said that the weather was insuring it wasn’t a vintage display from either side. For our part we weren’t getting any luck with our first touch and the players weren’t getting their positioning right to make the passes count in the strong winds. Rossana was our most creative player and other than the goal she made we weren’t really probing. Saying that Longwell weren’t exactly threatening either and that’s much to the credit of the whole team’s defensive work. Rossana’s graft paid off in the second half as she slid a low shot in by the far post for Rovers’ second of the afternoon.
Many Gasheads will recall a much-viewed video of a Steve Mildenhall goal-kick at the Mem which due to “extreme wind” resulted in a corner to the away team. This feat of meteorological madness would repeat itself for Longwell’s keeper shortly after our second goal which made me realise that the away side probably weren’t going to stage a last-minute comeback. Just as I headed for the exit early, throwing away my cherished match reporter integrity in the process, skipper Natty Coles made it three to the good as she took advantage of what non-league coaches optimistically describe as “the mixer” to bang it home from 6 yards.
A very well done to all the players from both sides for sticking it out through what even after six years of non-league groundhopping I’d still describe as butt-awful conditions and especially to the Gas Girls for another professional win. These two teams would go on to face each other again a week later when due to a waterlogged pitch at Longwell Green Sports Centre, the Gas Girls would do the double over our South Glos neighbours by running out 2-1 victors at Lockleaze. This means at time of writing we find the Gas Girls sitting pretty at the top of the league with a flawless nine win record, nine points ahead of second-placed Cheltenham Women U21s. The next home game is on January the 12th so why not make it your new year’s resolution to support your local women’s team? Hope to see you there!
Best wishes to you all for 2020