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Celebrating Non-League Day 2024 at Chippenham Town FC

View of the programme and pitch for Chippenham Town vs Welling United

A couple of weeks ago, I ended up at Hardenhuish Park, with a couple of friends, to watch Chippenham Town FC host Welling United FC in the National League South. Admittedly it was not the original plan for March 23rd 2024, but it did turn out to be a happy plan B or C! Originally, we were set up for our first new football away day adventure of this season, with a trip to see Oxford United vs Lincoln City. Then the dreaded international break got in the way, and the game was rearranged with barely the requisite ten days notice for fans. So, whilst the Kassam Stadium will have to wait for next season, this did leave me at a loose end for my latest date with a random, neutral football club...

 



This led me to a desperate scramble for alternatives, which was all the more complicated by the Championship being a non-starter and many other fixtures being postponed in League One. With the unwritten rule for away days being that we are adopted home fans for the day, this only left Northampton Town and Sutton United as likely possibilities. However, following a look into the train ticket prices, we decided that roughly an £85 return, on a whim, was too much of an insult!



The realisation then dawned that the date in question was the 'Non-League Day' designated for the 2023/24 campaign, at which point it was as if the football stars had aligned. Opting for a short jaunt from my Bristol base, the decision then came down to whether we were going to lend our support to Chippenham Town or Taunton Town for the day. Unashamedly, I went with the side higher up in the league table and in better form (apologies to 'The Peacocks').



For the uninitiated, 'Non-League Day' is one weekend every season when fans of clubs higher up the football pyramid are encouraged to embrace the fifth tier or below. The idea for it has been attributed to a fan called James Doe, back in 2010, and it has since become a regular feature that traditionally takes place during an international break when the Championship joins the Premier League in having time off.



The Old Tavern Pub ChippenhamOnce we arrived at Chippenham train station, we didn't have far to look for a decent pub. The Old Road Tavern is literally a stone's throw away from the railway line and a classic, cosy pub with plenty of character and a decent selection of beer, not to mention it has a pool table and offers a selection of rolls for peckish punters. The current custodians are clearly big music fans too, as the walls are adorned with plenty of memorabilia that covers some classic bands. After a couple of pints we were on our way and ready to amble towards the ground, which is just a fifteen minute walk away.



Sadly, there were no other public houses on the route to Chippenham Town FC, and so we found ourselves able to settle in with forty-five minutes to go until kick-off and an opportunity to explore Hardenhuish Park and their relatively new clubhouse bar. The cost of an adult ticket was £15, which was a little surprising when you consider that some League One clubs don't charge much more than that. But, seeing as this was 'Non-League Day' after all, we didn't gripe about it. I was also pleased to see that the match day programme endures at the club, and hasn't been relegated to just being online (yes, I'm looking at you Bristol City, tut tut).



The ground itself has a maximum capacity of 3000 people, with about 300 hundred of that being seated and located in the Main Stand, to your left as you enter, or the Bristol Road End ahead of you. The pitch has a slight, but noticeable, slope downwards to the Bristol Road End, whereas the far end of the pitch is the only side that offers no protection from the elements, with an open, concrete terrace of three to four rows. Meanwhile, facing the Main Stand is an unusual standing area that runs the length of the pitch and is well covered, but completely open plan. It's also where the dugouts are situated and you can get within touching distance of the bench.



During the course of the match we occupied three out of the four sides of the ground, taking advantage of the different perspectives! Speaking of which, the game itself was delayed until just after quarter-past three, apparently due to the Welling United team bus running late on their way down from Bexley. However, judging by how the majority of the first half went, the home crowd would have been quite happy for the away side to have been held up for longer.



First I have to acknowledge that there were windy conditions to deal with, and that Chippenham were attacking up the slope towards the open terrace end. That being said, The Bluebirds didn't give a good account of themselves and were lucky to end up being only 1-0 down at the break. Welling United started brightly, and had already had a shot comfortably saved, when their corner in the tenth minute was headed back across goal and a defensive knock on only landed at the feet of Jack Burchell, who swept in from barely six yards out.



Whilst Welling didn't do much to add to their tally, the home side only came close to threatening an equaliser as the first half came to a close. The left-sided midfielder, Tyreke Johnson, rolled in a cross that skirted through the six-yard box and somehow wasn't touched in by either of the strikers, Craig Fasanmade or Matt McClure, who both ended up sprawled on the floor instead.



As we visited The Bluebirds Bar at half-time and sheltered from any further driving rain, the Chippenham manager, Gary Horgan, clearly had some choice words for his players, as they came out in a very different mood for the second forty-five minutes. After some tit for tat, the game started to come alive on the hour mark, when the defender Luke Haines hit a long range, floating effort from inside his own half and almost caught out the Welling goalkeeper, who tipped it over from all of fifty yards! Still, the visitors then came very close to making the score 2-0, when Anthony Papadopoulos made a marauding run towards the right-hand side of the penalty area and hit a rising shot that Will Henry parried over the bar.



In the sixty-sixth minute the home crowd could finally celebrate. Good work by Fasanmade kept the ball in play near the left hand corner, and the ball eventually made it's way back to Luke Haines. After a little encouragement from the fans, and clearly buoyed by his earlier effort, he took a crack from thirty-five yards and found the bottom left of the Welling goal.



Chippenham were now a different team and in the ascendency, with numerous half-chances coming in quick succession. ThenView of the Chippenham Town FC dugout March 23rd 2024 in the seventy-second minute came the turning point, as Tyreke Johnson received the ball near the left-hand touch line and struck a cross-come-shot that arrowed into the top right corner. Johnson turned around, arms spread wide, to take in the aclaim, although one suspects that his intention was a deep cross. A brief rally from Welling was snuffed out in the eighty-first minute when Tom Owen-Evans collected a pass inside the box and smashed a shot into the top left corner to make the result seem safe for The Bluebirds.



In the remaining time, Johnson almost got his second goal when he just failed to get to the goalkeeper's rebounding save from Fasanmade. However, Johnson still managed to get his brace when in the eighty-ninth minute he ghosted into the six-yard box to tap in a low pass across goal from Tom Mehew. The Wings defence were convinced about an offside, but their protests were waived away and the crowd were jubilant.



It made for a successful afternoon, and the proverbial game of two halves, which was reflected by the weather improving as it went on. Now, far be it to pat ourselves on the back but, having looked at the stats, this was the biggest home league win for Chippenham Town in a little over two years! All jokes aside it made for a grand way to celebrate the 'Non-League Day' for 2024, and post-match we enjoyed a couple of pints in The Black Horse pub on the more sociable side of town, situated in the opposite direction from the train station. Here's to the 2025 edition...

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