With now just one ground standing between me and the promised land of being in the Groundhopping centurions club, I was starting to get excited as I made the trip down to Northamptonshire to visit top pal and fellow football-lover Will, to take in our 12th ground together. We have been lucky enough to see a good few away days with Macc at such hotspots as Edgeley Park, Harrison Park, Congleton Town's Booth Street and even last season's Wembley defeat, but as my fellow Yorkshireman has just moved to Burton Latimer I really didn't have a better excuse to open up my pursuit on Northamptonshire's grounds and so with a free weekend on my hands I headed down the M1 and got the party started.
|Will + Football + Beer = The Ultimate Saturday|
After spending an hour or so having a whip round of his delightful new abode, we soon cracked on with the sausage butties and bottles of Bud and before we knew it 2:30pm had arisen, meaning it was time to make the 2 minute walk to Latimer Park, the current home of Burton Park Wanderers and of course today's hosts Kettering Town. As of 2013 The Poppies have resided here following a torrid few years and this is the closest Kettering have been to having a happy and stable home since losing Rockingham Road in 2011- which has sadly started being demolished just this month. Another abandoned ground in Nene Park proved to be a very temporary dwelling for Town before they then moved on to a fairly new stadium in Steel Park- home of Corby Town. Yes, it is fair to say that the Poppies have been like wandering nomads of late and have played in whichever league at whichever ground will have them, but only credit can be given to their fans as they have kept on following them through thin and thinner- and today was no exception. With an average home attendance of 673 so far from their eight matches, this continued support for a side who play 7 miles from their old ground has remained great and even when the side plummeted from the Conference Premier to the lows of the eighth-tier Southern League Division One it didn't stop them supporting the lads in red and white. As for the afternoon's South Coast opponents, Gosport Borough, today would be a chance for the bottom of the table side to build on their first win of the season last weekend and try to pull away from potential back-to-back relegations. With roughly a dozen travelling supporters, the bright green kitted away side were far from favourites for this one and I decided to go for a 4-1 home win in my pre-match prediction.
The first impression we got from Latimer Park was that a modern and well-presented clubhouse was to be the highlight in terms of the features of the ground and this spacious bar area was delightfully crammed just before kick-off. After purchasing a couple of pints to take out, we made our way into the sunny, yet frosty, afternoon ready for the teams to emerge from the tunnel. We stood at the halfway line looking over at the three seated stands that by now had started to fill up. Behind both goals were covered terraces of all-standing space, with the larger one housing the few away fans and the smaller one was filled to the brim with the Kettering kop. Compared to many clubs at this level, both sets of fans were pretty well-voiced and as the hosts started the game in a commanding position, Gosport's fanbase were more focused on the size of the ground. "My garden shed is bigger than this." was a humorous dig to say the least.
|I can confirm that I haven't a garden shed to compare it with|
On the pitch, Kettering Town soon found themselves one up and it was through former Football League forward Aaron O'Connor that the Poppies took the lead. The ex-Newport County goal-getter darted into the box of Gosport Borough and with the defence honing in on him, the number 8 blasted a shot into the net of Tom Price and this fierce strike sparked a frenzy behind the goal. Kettering 1-0 Gosport. This 6th minute opener looked to set the tone for dominant display and conditions on the field picked up, so did the icy wind blowing across Latimer Park. Will made the foolish mistake of leaving his beer perched on the white metal fencing around the edge of the pitch and with just under half a pint left the weather took his beverage from him as the gust blew it to the ground, leaving him to ponder what he had referred to at the time as "the worst moment of his life". Kettering started to show intent to grab a second goal just before the half-hour mark however it would be the wind that would double its lead as a second gust knocked my plastic pot over and led us to the decision to run back to the clubhouse to refuel, at which point we just about saw a brilliant save from Price to deny Matthew Stevens.
|An interesting policy|
As the bar was located just outside the ground itself, Will and I were presented with a pass that allowed us to pop out and grab a beer- and because we had already done this before kick-off the kindly steward jokingly said "you may as well keep it" as we re-entered, knowing that we'd probably be taking in more alcohol as the day progressed. There was a lot of assertive possession towards the back end of the half from the hosts and only small chances fell to either side before the whistle, but nevertheless I was happy with what I'd seen so far. Fearing that I'd miss a goal just before the break, I quickly marched into the toilet only to be pleasantly delighted that whilst standing at the urinal I could observe the action through the small window located very usefully looking on to the pitch- a very handy feature, indeed.
|Other clubs should take note|
Half-time was spent in the yet again bountiful bar and as the darkness unfolded we were pleased to be indoors to try and warm-up before reluctantly stumbling back out for the second 45. We took shelter between the stands alongside a youthful steward who kept us company with some insightful conversation about the club. I was curious to know whether Latimer Park would be at an acceptable level to be accepted in the National League, having been to grounds at both ends of the scale of that league in the shape of Aggborough and North Ferriby's EON Visual Media Stadium, and I was informed that the Chairman of the club is apparently all ready to start building should the club gain promotion. The ground does currently look a bit like a construction site in fairness, but I can certainly believe that there is ambition there. Behind one of the goals is a fenced off area containing dozens of seats rescued from their old home. Back on the pitch there had now been 68 minutes on the clock Kettering found themselves with a set-piece in a dangerous area and as the ball was swung in it was Brett Solkhon who finally managed to beat an in-form Boro keeper and seal the 3 points for the home side. Kettering 2-0 Gosport. I was pretty happy to have witnessed another goal, but it wasn't to be good news for Will as he yet again saw his beer knocked to the ground by the wind- leading him to spend the remaining 15 minutes of the match indoors and out of the clutches of the weather.
|Another one bites the dust|
The weather was truly bitter by this point and I think that the match pretty much died off after the second goal, aside from one more amazing save from the diving Price yet again to keep the size of the lead down. Some home fans left just before the end of play, citing the cold weather as the reason, meanwhile Rene Howe and co tried to stay warm by continuing to pepper the Gosport penalty area without really threatening too much more. The Ref soon blew for full-time and I popped back in to the clubhouse to join Will. We supped up and sodded off into Burton Latimer to try out the various pubs and working men's clubs on offer. I expect that I'll be back in these parts fairly soon and I certainly wouldn't rule out a return to my good pal's new local.
|All being well, they might have this lot installed next time round|