Result: Banbury United 4-1 Kettering Town (Southern League Premier Division Central)
Venue: Spencer Stadium (Saturday 15th December 2018, 3pm)
A rare dip into the Southern League and to a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite a while. With it being an easy, direct journey as well, there was little excuse not do pay the Puritans of Banbury a visit as they welcomed high-flyers Kettering Town to the Spencer Stadium. All I had to do then was hope that the weather was ready to play ball. However, this is Britain and that was never going to happen now was it?! Upon grabbing the 9.30-ish train out of Manchester, the drizzle started just outside of Leamington and never ceased pretty much throughout the day, only getting worse to a point of near freezing come the end of the match. But there’s a fair bit to report in the midst of the day before that, so let’s get on with it.
Arriving at just before midday, I quickly set about somehow getting lost when trying to make my way to the north of the town and the pair of pubs there, so retraced my steps back to the centre’s J.T. Davies pub instead, where I discovered I was just across a carpark from my intended target. Not too bad in the end and I ended up watching the start of the Manchester City-Everton game in here whilst having a pint of the Shipyard Pale Ale, prior to heading over to the pair of pubs I should have started off in – the neighbouring Three Pigeons and Bailiffs Tap. The first of the two I visited would be the latter, a somewhat strange little set-up, whilst being rather brilliant in its own way. The bar area was pretty much non-existent, with just the beers and the like populating the front room, along with a few chairs and tables. More were set down the back along a small, long room and I decided to sit in there along with an IPA. The couple (I assume) who run the Tap were very friendly as well and its definitely worth a trip, if only for the fine pint, which came in at a fair £3.60.
Next up was the Three Pigeons, an old, low-ceilinged pub with steps leading down a little from street level to the bar. This was a fair bit more costly, a Peroni costing a cool £5.50, but the place had a fair option on and I just fancied one as I had my peruse of the offerings. The Three Pigeons is a quaint, dimly-lit place with a fair bit of character about it, and I certainly enjoyed my lounge in one of the armchairs there before it was time to brave the increasingly cold wind and walk slightly uphill back towards the famed Banbury Cross. However, before I got there, one or two stops were on offer, the first being the Dog & Gun, which looked far more interesting outside than within where it had sadly been, in my opinion, overly modernised into the sports bar-like place it has become. Still, it was pretty cheap and allowed me to watch some more of the game along with a Dark Fruits though I did swiftly finish up and continue onwards to the Cross and its neighbouring drinking holes the Horse & Jockey and The Swan.
Banbury is a historic market town on the banks of the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire. The name derives from ‘Banna’, a Saxton chieftain said to have built a stockade there, or possibly ‘Ban(n)a’, a byname for a felon or murderer and ‘burgh’ meaning settlement and is informally called “Banburyshire”, a term used by market towns in the 19th century to describe themselves. The Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig and appears in the Domesday Book as Banesberie and had also been known as Banesebury around these times. The area dates from at least the Iron Age of which remnants of where found dating to 200 BC and a Roman villa was later found in nearby Wykham Park. The area was settled by the Saxons in the 6th century and in around 556, Banbury was the site of a battle between the Anglo-Saxons of Cynric & Ceawlin and the local Romano-British. The Saxons would go on to develop under the influence of the Danes and built two towns – Banbury on the West bank of the river and Grimsbury on the other which later became part of Northamptonshire prior to being absorbed into Banbury in 1889. Neithrop is one of the older areas of the town, recorded as a hamlet from the 13th century before also being incorporated into Banbury the same year as Grimsbury.
The town stands on a junction of the ancient roads known as the Salt Way (now a bridle path) and Banbury Lane which is closely followed by the modern road and continued on through Banbury High Street towards the Fosse Way. The town grew up around these links with wool the main money-maker in medieval times, with a castle being added by 1135 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln and Banbury Castle survived through to the Civil War when it was besieged. During the Civil War the town was, at one stage, a Royalist town on account of its proximity to the King’s capital, Oxford, but the inhabitants were strongly Puritan and so welcomed the Roundhead forces. The castle was demolished after the war, during which the town was a base for Oliver Cromwell and is reputed to have planned out his battleplan for Edge Hill in a back room of the Reindeer Inn. The later opening of the Oxford Canal in 1778 gave Banbury access to coal and included a boatyard upon the extension through to the city’s opening. The town used to be home to a cattle market in Merton Street, Grimsbury – a street which had its own rail station until the ’60’s – though this was closed in 1998 and is now built upon.
Sadly, the first of these was surprisingly shut as I attempted the door in vain and so across the way to the Swan it was. The Swan was fine if unspectacular and I settled on a pint of normal Strongbow on this occasion (£3.30) prior to setting my bearings for the Spencer Stadium, although upon exiting the Swan I would come immediately across Banbury’s Wetherspoon’s offering – the Exchange. As such, I decided to pay it a visit and a quick Hooch then rather than post-match, thus giving me a little more time to finish up in the older few in the town centre, which I considered a far better option. Indeed, the Spoons was solid if (again) unspectacular and so I traipsed off up the road and down past a Morrison’s before eventually passing along the railway and to the ground itself. Programmes were still fairly abundant upon my arrival with around five minutes to kick-off, though one had been kept back just in case, which was kind of the club, so thanks to them (I didn’t receive the notification until far later on so was unaware of this at the time).
The Spencer Stadium is an interesting ground and is full of character. The Main Stand sits right in front of the turnstiles as you enter and straddles the half-way line and is flanked by offices on the turnstile side and the clubhouse/food bar and tunnel on the other. Behind the far end goal is a small, atcost-style seated stand, with open, hard standing at that end otherwise, the far side being the same, but becomes slightly more terraced as it runs towards the covered standing “Town End” to the right of the turnstile, where there is also a tea hut. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Banbury United….
Banbury United Football Club was founded in 1931 as Spencer Sports Club, the works team of Spencer Corsets factory. They initially played friendly matches before joining the Banbury Division of the Oxfordshire Junior League in 1933 and renaming as Spencer Villa and later that year, Banbury Spencer. They went on to win the league in their first year there and so joined the Oxfordshire Senior League for the following year where the club again won the league at the first attempt and were then elected to the Birmingham Combination for 1935-’36, whilst also entering a side in the Central Amateur League.
After the Second World War, 1947-’48 saw the club turn professional and finish runners-up in the Birmingham Combination and also reach the FA Cup First Round for the first time where they lost out to Colchester United. In 1954, the Combination folded and so Banbury Spencer moved into the Birmingham & District League and were allotted a place in the Birmingham & District League, finished 4th in 1954-’55 and were promoted to the Premier Division. The league would latterly be reduced to a one division competition in 1960 before becoming the West Midlands Regional League two years later for the season after Banbury’s second FA Cup 1st Round appearance, where they were again knocked out by stronger opposition, this time in the form of Shrewsbury Town.
1965 saw the club re-named Banbury United after a change in ownership before they undertook another move, this time into the Southern League Division One for the 1966-’67 campaign. When this division was regionalised in 1971, Banbury were placed in the ‘North’ section and went on to reach the FA Cup First Round in successive years in 1972-’73 & ’73-’74, but again they would bow out at that stage on both occasions, though they did force Northampton Town to a replay in the latter instance. After winning their first Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1978-’79, the following season’s league re-organisation meant the club were again moved, this time into the Southern League’s new Midland Division and remained here until relegation to the Hellenic League Premier Division in 1990, their only real success in that time being a second Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1988. They would go on to spend ten seasons in the Hellenic Prem before winning the Premier Division title in 2000 and promotion to the Southern League once more, but again would be in a “new” division – the Division One East.
Finishing 8th in 2003-’04, the club were promoted to the Premier Division on account of many clubs above being placed into the newly formed Conference North & South divisions and this season also saw silverware in the form of the club’s third Oxfordshire Senior Cup title, adding a further two of these to their trophy cabinet in 2006 & ’07 respectively. However it would take eight years for them to repeat the feat, lifting their sixth Senior Cup in 2015, but this time the season saw relegation to the Division One South and West (yet another new ‘un) in juxtaposition to their prior cup win. Banbury became community-owned ahead of the following season and this change in ownership saw United finish runners-up and qualify for the Division One South & West play-offs, whereupon they defeated Winchester City in the semi-finals before going on to defeat Taunton Town in the final to achieve an immediate return to the Southern League Premier. Upon yet more restructuring, the Puritans saw themselves in another Southern League divisional variation, this time the Southern League Premier Central Division for the 2017-’18 season, where they finished up in 9th place. In addition, the club have also won the Buckinghamshire Charity Cup on five occasions (2001-’02, 2011-’12, ’12-’13, ’13-’14 & ’15-’16).
The game got underway with the rain and wind becoming ever more prevalent and it certainly wasn’t the type of weather that you envy the players having to play in, that was for sure! Despite having some understandable early struggles with the conditions, the two teams put on a good display as they continued getting to grips with what they were facing. Kettering were unbeaten away from home in the league this year and this record has led them to be title contenders at this stage and the Poppies started strongly here with the vast majority of the play, though failed to truly create real chances.
Indeed it was Banbury who created the first sights of goal, with both Greg Kaziboni and Steve Diggin seeing efforts miss the target before the visitors then had a strong penalty shout waved away by the referee but it would be the hosts who would grab the opener with around ten minutes to play in the first half, when Charlie Wise met a corner from the right flank and powered his header beyond the helpless Paul White in the Kettering goal and allow most to get some feeling back in their feet. Kettering would have a late chance when re-debutant Adam Cunnington saw an effort well saved at close-range by White’s opposite number Manny Agboola as the half came to an end and I headed into the clubhouse for a warm and ended up meeting back up with the Kettering supporting Ellis clan once again. As such, I decided to afford myself a bit of warmth in numbers for most of the second-half and piled into the small stand along with them.
It appeared to have been a shrewd move in terms of the action being at close-quarters when Kettering won a penalty soon after the restart when the fiery George Nash brought down Marcus Kelly in the area and the spot-kick was duly awarded. Dan Holman stepped up and sent Agboola the wrong way to level up the scores and it looked set for the second-placed side to go on and dominate the game from there. How wrong that outlook proved to be when, just five minutes later there was a first (I think anyway) for me at a game as Ravi Shamsi’s in-swinging corner somehow evaded White’s grasp and flew into the far side of the goal unaided. A direct goal from a corner and I was delighted at that; those around me meanwhile…..er, not so much!
Shamsi seemed to single-handedly decide to grab the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck at that point and he almost immediately added his second when firing in a shot from range that clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over before Greg Kaziboni would net the all important fourth goal of the game when he received the ball in the inside-right flank, cut inside and beat his man with nice skill before firing across White’s frame and into the far corner. Despite White pulling off a fine double-save soon afterwards to keep his side somewhat in the contest, it would get even worse for the Poppies as Banbury’s probable best performance of the season so far was rounded off when the impressive Shamsi slammed home into an unguarded net from around the penalty spot after an unselfish pull-back. Shamsi also had a late chance to claim a hat-trick but could only hit his effort straight at White as the game came to a close to round off a fine win for the hosts, whilst the away fans down the far end from me at this point, were left to bemoan what they perceived to be a pointless team switch-up.
As for me, a quick exit was bid through the freezing rain conditions and I eventually found my way back to the town centre via getting lost at the Morrison’s en route, though Maps soon came to my rescue and directed me to the respite of The Wheatsheaf, an old and fairly unassuming pub that was unfortunately completely empty on my arrival, though did fill a little by the time I would leave. After a quiet pint of Aspall’s at the pincely £4.70, I again got put slightly off-track in my pursuit to find the neighbouring hostelries of the Old Auctioneer and Ye Olde Reindeer (the extra “e” isn’t needed in ‘olde’, of course) prior to discovering a small alleyway was the way to go. Back in the warmth of the bar area, the Old Auctioneer’s Heineken set me back the same as my previous stop, before the Reindeer would be a little, and I mean a little, easier on the pocket with a pint of Stowford Press costing £4.50.
Finishing up my final drink in Banbury, the short walk back over to the station was undertook and I grabbed the direct train back to Manchester having agreed with myself that it would be easier to do so than have to change at Birmingham. It definitely did prove good as it allowed me to have a nap and waste away the journey time before awaking at Stockport ahead of a final “one for the road” in the Piccadilly Tap after a long time away. In this case, the “one for the road” is accurate as it would again be a bus back from the Gardens for me as the RMT and Northern continue to do f*ck all bar make life difficult for everyone who relies on them for Saturday trips. Surely enough is enough on one of their accounts and, at this point now after so long, I don’t really care which. Anyway, I’m not getting into that mess.
So what of the trip as a whole? Well, Banbury was what I expected really, a mix of old and new with some historical pubs to enjoy within the pretty town centre, the church being the jewel of that. The ground was brilliant too and is right up there with my favourites and the food (hot dog and chips at £3 I think, I can’t really remember) and programme were both good efforts, though the chips were at a bit of a premium. Otherwise, all went smoothly in terms of transport and the drink prices were to be expected on the whole. Next up comes the festive season and the lack of transport (though not as impactful as recent years obviously as they don’t turn up anyway) sees me restricted to local matches. Not that this is a bad thing, though, as a Wythenshawe double sees me visit Town, Amateurs on Boxing Day for the first Wythy semi-pro derby clash then hopefully to FC St. Helen’s on the following Saturday. Have a good one all and I hope, like me, you wont be dr*hic*ing too much….
Value For Money: 7