"It was at Banstead a few weeks ago that it hit us – City play in the same colours as a barber’s pole. Matt suggested we be called ‘The Sweeney Todds’ and I suggested why not just ‘The Sweeney’. Hence the nickname was born."
For me personally, the town of Guildford means one thing. The Stranglers. The band was formed in the town in 1974 and were originally known as The Guildford Stranglers, although none of the band were from the town. In my opinion one of the best live bands I have ever seen and certainly the band I have seen the most over the years. The death of keyboard player Dave Greenfield in May was a massive blow not only to the band but the the world of music in general.
So, where do The Sweeney play their games these days? Well, since the rebirth of the club in 1996, they have been resident at The Spectrum Leisure Centre just to the North-East of the town centre, adjacent to the A3. The football ground is part of a complex that also provides athletics to the local area with the pitch being surrounded by an athletics track.
Being part of the leisure complex, there is ample parking available, all within a very short walk of the turnstile. This is situated just off the car park, which is raised well above the level of the playing area. I had already purchased my ticket online, so it was just a case of showing it to the man on the gate and I was in. There is a winding path that takes you down to the level of the pitch. The majority of the facilities, concrete terracing, bar, tea hut, toilets, players and officials areas, are all on the leisure centre side of the ground, to your left as you enter. Of course, in these times, the first thing you come across is the track & trace register which can be done either with an app or through the manual method of writing your name and phone number on a form.
I said the majority of facilities on are the leisure centre side. This is true and the stepped concrete gives a very good view of the pitch. There is however a small covered standing area on the opposite side of the ground, the A3 side, accessed via the same path that brings you in from the turnstile. The view is not so good from that side, hampered by the dugouts which are situated either side of the halfway line. On the plus side, you do feel closer to the action, even with the athletics track between the stand and the pitch.
This was Guildford's first home league game of the season. Both The Sweeney and opponents Abbey Rangers, had taken a point in their opening fixtures, Guildford with a 1-1 draw at CB Hounslow United and Rangers with the same score at hole to Colliers Wood United. The sides have been in the same division since Abbey were promoted at the end of 2015/16. Since then they have met 7 times (only once last season because of the abandonment of the season). Spoils have been shared, three wins each with only last season's 0-0 draw breaking the sequence. There have also been plenty of goals in the fixture, aside from last season, with a total of 27 scored, 15 for Rangers and 12 for City. Abbey have clocked up the biggest win, a 5-0 thumping two season's ago but Guildford have the best away win in the series, 4-2 in the first meeting at The Moor.
Although this was my first trip to The Spectrum, I have seen both of these teams play before, both around this time last year and both of them won. Abbey beating Walthamstow in a history making Cup tie and Guildford spoiling Ascot's new ground opening night with a superb 3-0 win at Thee Racecourse Ground.
The sides were greeted onto the pitch by the rather excellent stadium announcer, who had already read out the teams and continued to keep the crown informed throughout the game. Guildford were in their traditional red and white stripes with black short. Abbey, in a change from their normal black and white kit, were playing in yellow shirts with dark grey stripes and white shorts.
After the usual, initial exchanges in the first five minutes, where the teams tested each other out a little, the game started to settle into a pattern with Abbey beginning to get a grip on the match, especially in the midfield third. having said that, there was plenty of endeavour from both sides with the game being played at an extremely high tempo. Both sides were very keen to get on with play and, with ball boys employing a multi-ball system, there was very little time for anyone to take a breather.
Despite Abbey keeper Billy Bishop having to make the best save of the opening encounters, it was his team who went ahead in the 12th minute. A free-kick midway inside the City half out towards the right flank was delivered deep into the home penalty area. Abbey centre-half Jordan Stepney, who was hanging around towards the far post, did exceptionally well to get his head to the ball and direct it back across the six-yard area. Following a bit a scramble the ball found its way to Tom Neale who blasted it beyond Zack Basey to make it 0-1.
Following the goal, the game followed the same sort of pattern. Abbey looked to be the sharper of the two sides but Guildford still posed a threat when they attacked with pace. In fact it was once again Bishop in the Rangers goal who was called upon to keep the scores level.
From a neutral standpoint, the most noticeable aspect of the game was the speed at which Abbey hunted down and regained possession in midfield whenever they lost the ball. They never gave the City players any time to settle on the ball. This led to a number of challenges and decisions that clearly upset passionate Sweeney coach Chris Balchin, who was not shy in making his grievance heard by the official. So much so, in fact, that the referee had to have a word with at one point.
HT Guildford City 0 Abbey Rangers 1. Noticeable how quick Abbey are to win the ball back. Much sharper when out of possession. Guildford look to have a threat when going forward but are a yard off the pace in the middle
The second half, however, did not start with the relentless pace shown in the first. This may have been down to the extra effort that the home side were putting in but also because a few niggly tackles were preventing unbroken passages of play, which suited Abbey more as they tried to protect their lead, although things never threatened to turn ugly.
Midway though the half we were informed that the crowd of 211 was a Combined Counties League record for Guildford. The seems to be a trend across the country now that non-league is back. The game I attended last week, at Roman Glass St George also attracted a much larger than average attendance. It will be interesting to see if crowds remain higher than normal after the resumption of the Premier League next week.
As with the first half, there was no lack of endeavour from either team. Guildford certainly pressed harder than in the first half but, in all actuality, Abbey never really looked too stretched on any occasion.
As we entered into the final 15 minutes of the game the assembled crowd, regardless of their allegiance were treated to an absolute peach of a goal and, as peaches go this was right up there as pick of the crop. An Abbey attack down the right seemed to be heading nowhere until the ball was pulled back into midfield, it was then rolled out to the left where Josh Ano took over. He had enough time to take one touch to set himself up, he unleashed an unstoppable effort across and over the keeper into he far corner. You'll go a long way before you see a better strike of a football. 0-2. The goal was effectively the final blow for Guildford. They pressed in the last 10 minutes but there were to be no more heroes this evening on either side. The referee drew a close to proceedings and to a well deserved Rangers win.
FT Guildford City 0 Abbey Rangers 2. A disappointing start to their home league campaign for the Sweeney but to be fair to them, Abbey Rangers looked like a very good team and will surely be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. Sometimes you have to take defeat on the chin and move on. Guildford will do that with an FA Cup tie at Staines Town to look forward to. Abbey too have an FA Cup game on the horizon, a very tasty looking local derby at Chertsey Town.
Guildford City: Basey, Oragi, Nzelo, Lewington, Woodhouse(c), Beale, Coppinger, Higgins, Smith, Ocansey, Smith-Joseph. Subs: Williams, Burton, Everard, Stanislaus, Saraiva
Abbey Rangers: Bishop, Ano, Kirby, Stepney, Kedze, Robertson, McKillip, Rowley, Fraser, Gallagher, Neale. Subs: White, June, Benincasa, Watts, Kersley
Ground Number: 241