The City have finally made it! What do you mean, which City?
Gloucester City, of course, aka God's gift to football. After a nervous end of
the season finale, they finally clinched the championship of the Beazer Homes
League Midland Division, and have returned to the forefront of English football
- they're back on the Pools coupon three times a season.
The Beazer Homes League trips delightfully off the tongue. When
I was a lad it was the good old Southern League. No sponsors titles in those far
off days when my mate Phil would say "Are you going to the City this
afternoon?" "Who are they playing?" I'd reply. "Sittingbourne".
"You bet, it'll be a cracker!" The innocence of youth.
Gloucester has always been a rugby city. The Kingsholm Rugby
Union ground still attracts crowds in their thousands. By adding together the
crowd, players, officials, those watching for free through the fence and those
who only come to the clubhouse for a game of skittles, City watchers would
number in the middle hundreds. Evening matches, without the competition of local
amateur leagues, might draw in a few more.
For years, City were one of the few clubs in the league without
floodlights. This meant that evening matches, played on Thursday, the
traditional payday, kicked off at 6.30 in September and then didn't kick-off at
all until April. Eventually a blanket was paraded at home games into which the
faithful would lob their coppers (if you were accurate, in off the linesman).
Rumour had it so little was collected that the club used the cash to buy a new
The old home of the Gods was Horton Road Stadium, though
'Stadium' was a slight misnomer as three sides of the ground consisted of grass
banks set too far away from the pitch to actually recognise the players. The
remaining side consisted of a small stand, clubhouse and a covered terrace, the
latter housing the vocal T-End. Led by one Don Mann, known to the masses as
'Manhole' we sang the City onward to victory (sometimes). The classics included
"We all agree
Jones is better than Yashin
Stevens is better than Eusebio
And Hinckley are in for a thrashin'".
Wit was rather a scarce commodity, though one memorable moment
of spontaneity was produced. City had a winger called Bob McCool, a Charlie
Cooke type who opposing full-backs would love to clobber into Row G. The T-End
chant for their favourite was the traditional 'He's here, he's there' He's
every f@*kin' where, Bob McCool...' which brought a warning from the FA
about the bad language being used! During the game following this dictatorial
decree, McCool set off on another mazy dribble which ended with the T-End
singing "He's here, he's there, we're not allowed to swear, Bob McCool..."
City possessed several other entertainers in their side, some
deliberate, others accidental. Willie Ferns came into both categories; a tall
Scot, who, legend had it, once played for Liverpool, though no doubt for their
Central League side. A great chuckle went ran around the ground as Ferns lined
up a direct free kick to one side of the centre circle. This turned to gasps of
disbelief and then a roar of acclaim as the thunderbolt shot crashed into the
far corner of the net. Don Gapper was the only right-back with built-in slice.
His touch kicking was immaculate and would have won him many honours in the game
with the funny shaped ball.
The side did contain one player of genuine class. Nigel
Page-Jones, despite his rather poncey name, was a star, an overlapping left-back
with a strong tackle, far too good for both City and the Southern League. He
eventually married a French girl and moved to Brittany where he played for the
local Second Division club Brest, and in true 'Nige of the Rovers' fashion was
their player of the year as the club swept to promotion. His stylish play
attracted the attention of top French clubs, but he refused to leave Brest.
Prior to Page Jones was a full-back who went on to become one of
the best defenders of his era. Welsh international Rod Thomas started his career
at City in the early Sixties, joining them from local junior club Longlevens,
for whom your correspondent used to perform as midfield dynamo for the reserves,
although not at the same time. The same club was also the starting point for
Bristol City winger Gerry Sharpe, who was tipped for full England honours until
a Nobby Stile tackle broke his leg in three places and he never played again.
Alas, the old T-End is no more. City declined even further than
the rock bottom of my youth and were rescued by the ubiquitous and largely
unwelcome breed of football angels, the property developer. Westbury Homes
arrived with their money and eyes on Horton Road's lush acres. Damn them, they
even changed the club strip from it's traditional red and white to the company
colours of yellow and black. It won't be long we said, before they sell the land
for housing. It wasn't long. Surprisingly, the deal included a new ground on the
other side of town, Meadow Park (turn right at the docks, you can't miss it).
A new manager, Brian Godfrey, had City playing some delightful
attractive football - too subtle for the cloggers of the Midland Division.
Another successful season and we could be renewing rivalry in the Conference
with our old enemies, the Robins of Cheltenham Town. The present sides success
owes a lot more to the twin strike force of Chris Townsend and Shaun Penny, who
between them rattled in 57 goals as City finished 5 points clear at the top.
Townsend is the undoubted star and showed his current form in frightening the
life out of Coventry City in a pre-season friendly (then again, who doesn't ?).
One story sums up the City for me. Recently, Arsenal came to
Meadow Park for a friendly which doubled as a testimonial for Barrie Vassallo,
an ex-Arsenal apprentice who wandered around the lower reaches of the League
before going semi-professional. an injury had brought early retirement and
Vassallo turned up a couple of days after the Arsenal game to collect his
testimonial cheque. Due to a shortage of players, he had to turn out that night
in a league match...