Wilton Rovers were formed in 1952. They moved home to the Gala Club in on the Northern boundaries of Gloucester in 1970, adopting the name of the club later in their history. Situated no more than a drop kick from Gloucester Rugby's Kingsholm Stadium (you can hear the PA announcements and crowd quite clearly), the Gala Club comprises of a fairly large clubhouse, function room and conference facilities. There's plenty of parking available on both sides of the clubhouse. A patio and barbecue area sits in front of the club, looking out towards the football pitch. These days all of the features of the playing area are on the clubhouse side of the pitch. A relatively new covered standing area separates the two dugouts. This is the only covered area on the ground now, although on the far side you can still see the foundations from the old Gala stand. Such a shame that this has now gone. If you look at the images of the club on Google maps you will see a Craig Dabbs photo of the stand from 2016. The pitch itself looked as if it had stood up quite well to the recent dry weather. There's possibly a slight slope from right to left when looking form the clubhouse side, but nothing of any great consequence.
Both sides had started the Gloucester County League season very well and, at the start of play, both were boasting 100% records. Gala sat top of the pile with 9 points from their 3 games. To add to that record they had also already scored 12 goals, beating Cribbs reserves 4-2 on the opening day, following up with a 3-0 win at Patchway Town and then a 5-1 home defeat of Quedgeley Wanderers. Sharpness, who came back into the Gloucester League setup in 2019 from the Gloucester Northern Senior League, started the season with a 4-2 win over Quedgeley and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Stoke Gifford. They sat third at the start of play, ahead of their first road trip of the season. Last season saw both sides finish in the top five, Sharpness third and Gala fifth. Gala won this fixture 2-0 with goals from Jay Dare and Callum Thomas. The return at Hamfields was a 0-0 draw which saw five yellow cards.
Massive thanks to Gala coach Jon Clay for taking the time to let me take a phot of their team sheet and then heading back into the changing rooms to bring out the Sharpness sheet. I don't like asking coaches on matchday, they've got enough going on, but Jon was more than happy to help. A credit to the club.
After a cagey opening it was gala who produced the first shot on target when Truan Taylor had to be alert to hang onto a Dan Gayner shot after 8 minutes. Not to be outdone, Sharpness tried their luck a few minutes later. Tom Frankham weaved inside form the left before seeing his shot deflected wide for a corner off a defender. A lively start from both sides.
A minute later Gayner was again looking dangerous a he muscled his way onto a long ball through the middle. He managed to get a shot away but, once again, was thwarted by Taylor. The big Gala striker was starting to cause a few problems for the visitor's defensive line. that looked as if it would only get worse for Sharpness when, after a fairly long delay for treatment, centre-half Tome Freeman was forced off with what looked like a head injury. The defender was on his feet and walking around the pitch afterwards, so hopefully nothing more than a precaution.
The game became increasingly scrappy from this point. The danger from Gayner's runs lessened as Gala were caught offside, much to the ire of their players and bench, many times. In fact, the flagging of the Sharpness linesman (no assistant referees at this level) became a constant complaint from the home team. I'll be honest, at no point in the game, in either half, was I in line with any of the decisions, so I can't pass any comment on this at all. I guess this is just a feature of the game at this level. Who'd want to be a lino eh?
The long gala through ball did almost pay dividends in the 40th minute though. No flag this time as Ben Sluman just managed to win a race for the ball with visitor's keeper Truan Taylor. His toe poke beat the keeper but also just went wide of the far post. Probably as close as either team had come to a goal for a good twenty minutes or so. However, it was the visitors who came close to having the final say of the half. A left wing corner caused a bit of a scramble in the Gala penalty area before it was finally scrambled clear.
HT Gala Wilton 0 Sharpness 0. As expected, a tightly contested game between two very evenly matched sides. A scrappy affair with what appeared to be a number of personal scores being settled in favour of playing football. Not too many clear cut chances but certainly not dull game. I finally got to meet Andrew Jackson of Tiger Sports Photography (@tigersportphot1). We've been in contact over Twiiter for some time but this was the first time we had both been at the same game, so good to meet up in person at last.
After the goal the game settled into similar patterns as the first half for the next fifteen minutes. By this time I had relocated to a spot in the new stand between the two dugouts to get a better idea of the atmosphere between the two sides. I think it's fair to say that both sides had their gripes with the officiating at times. As we past the hour mark it was clear that Sharpness were putting a lot of effort into stepping things up and were increasingly looking to get forwards. On 65 minutes Sharpness sprung a quick break down their right hand side but the final ball across the face of the goal was just too far ahead of Jake Evans for him to make a proper contact.
Of course, as the away side pushed for an equaliser they left themselves more vulnerable at the back. that was the case on 80 minutes when Dan Gayner went on a good run culminating in a powerful shot that Taylor was again forced to repel at his near post. Then with five minutes remaining Gala came even closer when Kiran Mace's header crashed against the bar.
We were now at the stage when both benches were asking the referee how long there was to play. by my watch we were into the first minute of added time when the match took a twist. Sharpness won a corner on the left. The ball was lofted into the box with the majority of the away team loaded in there. A header was directed goalward only for a home defender to head it off the line. The ball fell to Sharpness captain Ben Gibbs on right-hand edge of the box and he drilled it back past Newman and a crowd of players to level the game. 1-1. Cue much celebration from the Sharpness bench.
That celebration, however, was muted compared to what happened two minutes later, with the referee about to blow for full-time. Calls for a penalty from Sharpness fell on deaf ears but again the ball dropped to a Sharks player, this time substitute Will Lacey. He slid the ball past Brad Newman to send the visitor's bench into absolute raptures. 1-2.
Their was barely time for the home side to restart the game before the referee blew for the end of the game.
FT Gala Wilton 1 Sharpness 2. Sharks completely turned the game on its head in added time to retain their 100% league record and draw level on point with Gala at the top. Absolutely gutting for the home side and, unsurprisingly, there were words to be had between some of the players, benches and supporters. To be honest, after such a highly charged end to a game that had had a bit of an edge anyway, it was to be expected and, in all fairness it was, as they say, a bit of handbags. Nothing untoward.
From a neutral's point of view you couldn't ask a lot more form the end of a game and the Gloucestershire County League didn't fail to produce as far as I am concerned. If you want to check out either of these teams, and I strongly suggest you do, they will be back in cup action next weekend. Sharpness host Quedgeley whilst Gala Wilton make the trip to Stoke Gifford.
Gala Wilton: Newman, Loveridge, Parry, McNally(c), Mace, Molyneux, Sluman, Howell, D.Gayner, Smirt, A.Gayner. Subs: Walters, Harmer, Foxwell, Antonio, Gibbs
Sharpness: Taylor, Ben Gibbs(c), Thomas, Dummelow, Rouse, Freeman, Cawkwell, Frankham, A.Higgs, Brad Gibbs, Jack Higgs. Subs: Lacey, Walsh, Evans, James Higgs, Paterson
Ground Number: 324