Ludgershall play their home games in the neighbouring village of Ashendon just off a road called Lower End, which is an ironic name given that the village and the ground is perched on top of the highest point for miles. There are stunning views from all sides of the pitch, looking out over the Vale of Aylesbury on one side and over towards Bicester on the other. The reasonably sized car park has two gates, one leading to the lower level next to the facilities building, the other almost onto the pitch itself, right next to one of the corner flags. The pitch slopes quite sharply back towards the car park end and is very tightly hemmed in at one corner by a fence and by a drop down to the clubhouse on the opposite side. Having said that, you'll need to travel a fair bit to find a ground with better views, especially on a clear Summer's evening such as this Tuesday.
Ludgershall United have been around for over 100 hundred years, having been formed in 1907. Their first team currently plays in the Aylesbury & District League Division Two, level 14 or Step 10 in non-league terms. At close of play last season they were placed eighth on 15 points from their 16 games played.
I have to say though that my main reason for checking out this game was the away side, Bicester Athletic. My involvement with grassroots football in the town of Bicester goes back over 10 years to when I first moved to the town. I was initially on the committee of the now defunct Hellenic League side, Bicester Town and I am now involved in a junior coaching role at the town's largest club, Bure Park FC who's first team play in the Oxfordshire Senior League. I have also taken a keen interest in the other teams playing at grassroots level in the town, Bicester Hallions and Bicester Town Colts. It only seemed fair to take a look at the new kid on the block, Bicester Athletic (Graven Hill, I haven't forgotten you either). Athletic, who started life as Launton Sports Reserves and have retained some of their players, will play in the Lord Jersey League next season, although I haven't seen the constitutions yet, so I am not sure which division they will be in.
Not relishing the thought of standing in blazing sunlight for too long, I made my way around the pitch and found a shaded spot from which to observe the first half. Bicester in their green and black stripes were kicking down the slope in the first half, Ludgershall in yellow and black stripes defending the car park end.
There was an opening period of sparring where both teams took it in turns to give away possession before, on 9 minutes Bicester came close to taking the lead when Shayne Almond struck a long range effort which came back off the Ludgershall bar. A good effort and sign of intent from Bicester. Three minutes later they turned this intent into a lead when Paul Brown was played in on goal. His low left-footed effort beat the keeper despite him getting a hand to it and Bicester were a goal up. 0-1
Ludgershall's response was almost very quick. Only six minutes after going behind a throw-in on the left was turned into the path of their captain just inside the box. His hooked volley beat Knight but clipped the bar and went to safety. Unlucky but, as it turned out, this was the home side's best opportunity in the first half.
Halfway through the half we had a much needed drinks break with Bicester leading 1-0 and having the lion's share of the play. However, it was certainly not all one way traffic at this point. That changed immediately after the break when Jordan Bedford played a delightful, flighted pass over the defensive line and into the path of Shayne Almond running in from the left. His low finish beat the keeper and Bicester were two to the good. 0-2
Four minutes later it was three and it was Almond again. This time the beneficiary of a superb diagonal ball from Paul Brown which set him up to finish calmly for 0-3.
Ludgershall were rocking now, there was some dissent in the ranks and they needed to get to half-time to re-group. However, Bicester were having none of it and could smell blood. A minute after going three up some nifty footwork from Michael Woodward gave him enough space to slot home number four from the edge of the box. 0-4.
Then to complete a devastating ten minute spell, Paul Brown treated us to the goal of the game so far. Cutting in from the right, the left-footed winger exchanged a one-two before curling an unstoppable effort into the far corner. 0-5. To be fair to Ludgershall, they did manage to batten down the hatches for the final seven or so minutes of the half and prevented Bicester from adding to their tally.
HT Ludgershall United 0 Bicester Athletic 5. Bicester were always in command of the game playing down the slope. However, until the drinks break, Ludgershall were holding their own. After the break Bicester hit their stride and United fell apart for a period of 10 minutes, which cost them four more goals.
It became apparent quite early on in the half that the second half was going to be an entirely different proposition to the first. With the slope in their advantage, Ludgershall were playing a very high line at the back with their keeper acting as a a sweeper. This was proving to be very effective at preventing Bicester from getting any kind of real threat going. However, try as they might, Ludgershall were finding it difficult to create any real chances of their own. They did fashion a very good opportunity in the 67th minute when their hard-working number 7 was set free with a clear run on goal. He had already beaten the keeper when one Bicester's substitute defenders put in a world class, last ditch tackle to prevent him from getting his name on the scoresheet. As a neutral I could certainly appreciate the effort of the defender but I felt a little sorry for the Ludgershall player who had worked himself into the ground for the entire game and, despite being on the side of a team currently 5-1 down, I would have had him down as my man of the match at this point.
With less than ten minutes remaining Ludgershall won a corner on the left. The ball was played deep towards the far post where it was met with a crashing volley from the Number 4. He was very unlucky to see his effort hit the underside of the bar and bounce to safety. However, they did get another goal back a minute later when their captain (I think, I didn't have a good view) stabbed the ball home at the near post for 2-5. If the goal had come 10 minutes earlier it may have made for an exciting end to the game but, unfortunately for Ludgershall, there was nowhere near enough time for a miraculous comeback.
Best of luck to both sides for the coming season, I will be looking out for fixtures to check out both teams during the regular season.
Bicester Athletic: Knight, Hobbs, Woodward, Wynne, Bedford, Hawtin(c), Crooks, Dunseafe, Almond, Brown, Woodward. Subs: Lisseter, Wray, Smith, Parker, Giddins
Many thanks to the Bicester Twitter admin for their team info. I am more than happy to add the Ludgershall team and scorers if they are sent to me.
Ground Number: 271