Longlevens is a suburb of Gloucester, just to the North-East of the city centre. The club, although headquartered in Longlevens, play their home games on a leased facility on the other side of the A417 at Sawmills End. The ground is part of a campus which also includes an Ibis Hotel. There is limited parking at the football ground, but ample space on street or on the hotel car park (you should check any restrictions before parking here though). The ground has a covered seating area on the Saw Mills End side of the pitch with the dugouts on the opposite side. The Ibis hotel backs one of the goals with an office building behind the other. The clubhouse is not on site, being at the club's headquarters. However, there is a refreshments bar on site which caters for all supporters needs. The club is renowned for playing Northern Soul over their tannoy (does anyone still call it a tannoy?) before games, a fact borne out by a poster proclaiming exactly that as you enter the ground. I've never been a big fan myself but during my younger years I had a few friends who would regularly make trips up to Wigan. They would have loved the sounds that greeted supporters as they entered the ground. It's a nice touch and gives the club a great bit of character.
In keeping with the current climate there was track & trace in place via the NHS app or manually at the entrance. There were also hand sanitiser stations around the ground and plenty of notices asking supporters to maintain social distancing. All in all, a very safe environment.
For both clubs this season is their sixth venture into the FA Vase. Levens just about edge it in terms of progress made with a Second Round appearance last season where they went out 3-2 at Falmouth Town. Sumas have made the First Round on two occasions, the last being in 2015-16 when they went out 3-1 at Hartley Wintney. Last August BotP was at Wokingham's Lowther Road ground to witness The Town's Team return to FA competition action back in Wokingham, when they won 2-1 against a Step 5 side in Chipping Sodbury Town (Satsumas Vase Homecoming Bears Fruit).
Levens and Sumas have not met previously in the FA Vase or FA Cup, however they have previously played in the same division for one season, 2015-16. Levens did the double over Sumas, who went on to be relegated, that season, winning 1-0 away and 3-2 back at Sawmills in a game that saw Sumas reduced to 10 men.
Both sides have begun the new season in good form. Levens are fifth in the Hellenic Premier League and unbeaten after two wins and three draws. They progressed in the Vase after knocking out another Step 6 side, Hellenic Division One West Tytherington Rocks, on penalties. Sumas, also unbeaten with five wins and a draw, sit proudly top of Division One East. They also saw off a Division One West side, Cheltenham Saracens, in the previous round, winning 3-0 at Lowther Road.
Bright sunshine greeted the teams as they made their way out onto the pitch, Levens in the home kit of red & black stripes, Sumas in a change from their orange kit, wearing an all dark blue outfit.
Early exchanges suggested that this was going to be a tightly contested game, despite there being a division between the sides. In fact it was the away side who seemed to settle into the game the better, exerting some pressure on the home defence with a couple of corners and free-kicks played into the area, none of which unduly unsettled Winman in the Levens goal.
We were around 20 minutes into the game when the hosts had their first meaningful effort at goal but this was held well by Woodward. There was a not a great deal to choose between the teams but Sumas still, in my opinion, held a slight edge in terms of how dangerous they looked when going forward. This was aided by a succession of 50/50 decisions that seemed to go in their favour, which clearly had the home side and their bench somewhat frustrated. Unfortunately, and as so often happens, the more they contested decisions the more likely those decisions were to go against them.
Even though the away side had held sway, they could easily have gone in a goal down at the break when, after clearing a Levens attack, Dan Collier tried to pass back to his keeper without seeing that a Levens attacker was still comig out of the box. Luckily Sean Woodward was very quick off his line to make the save with his feet. Definitely a let off for Sumas and the best chance of the half for either team.
HT Longlevens 0 Wokingham & Emmbrook 0. A close encounter but Sumas probably edged it. All to play for in the second half.
The second period seemed to be a lot more end to end generally, with fewer free kicks, and overall very evenly balanced for much of the time. Levens started quite well, forcing an early free-kick which was headed wide, Wokingham responded with a couple of raids themselves, Josh Harris coming close and captain Liam Eagle heading one over from a corner. It was entertaining stuff for a neutral and, presumably, nail-biting for supporters of the two teams.
Maybe the home coaches had been of the same opinion as me about complaining to the referee because their players definitely didn't seem to be getting on the official's back in the second period. In fact, it was Sumas who were up in arms, twice appealing for penalties and twice being turned down. Both appeals were at the same end of the pitch that I was standing at and, I have to say, both would have been harsh on Levens if they had been given but you can understand the appeals.
Sumas immediately pressed for the equaliser which, in turn, left them more exposed at the back. The game became more and more end to end, Collier went close for Sumas with a real rasper from long range, but they were looking a lot more vulnerable every time Levens got the ball back now. The nail was hammered into the coffin in the 88th minute when Will Emery, who had raided up the right flank tirelessly all game, drove into the box, fended off a couple of challenges and slipped the ball under Woodward to make it 2-0.
FT Longlevens 2 Wokingham & Emmbrook 0. Levens progress to the next round but it has to be said that the score-line was a little bit harsh on the Sumas. Despite playing in a division below their hosts, they more than matched them. In the end it was a defensive slip-up and a great piece of tenacity that swung the game. For Sumas, next up is a Challenge Cup game at home to Chinnor on Tuesday evening. Longlevens have to wait until next Saturday before making the trip to Hereford to visit Westfields in the league
A final note from me in the light of all of the recent controversy surrounding the £15 pay per view charge on some Premier League games. I spent many, many years following West Brom home and away. At the time I couldn't conceive not watching them play at every opportunity. However, once they reached the Premier League I felt my enthusiasm and enjoyment of the games begin to wane. I began watching non-league, especially my local team from childhood Stourbridge, and it rejuvenated my love for football. Yesterday, I watched a great game, played by two committed sides who genuinely wanted to play (not for money, but because they love the game), I was out in the fresh air and it cost me just £5 to get in, with a further £1 for a cup of tea. Why on earth would I pay £15 to sit on my sofa watching a game with no fans and no atmosphere when I could be out and about watching real football? It's a no from me. I'll always want The Baggies to win and I when they don't it still puts a downer on my day, but as for live football, it's non-league all the way for me now.
Best of luck to both teams for the remainder of this season and a big thank you to the Severn Sport commentary team who shared the teams sheets with me before kick-off.
Longlevens: Winman, Emery, Barnett, Kavanagh, Long, Emmett, T.Callinan, O'Connor(c), ames, Martin, Johns. Subs: G. Callinan, Haswell, Lovegrove, Johnstone, Williams
Wokingham & Emmbrook: Woodward, O'Connell, Day, Cummukey, L.Eagle(c), C.Eagle, Harris, Collier, Scope, White, Bateman. Subs: Carter, Rushforth, Badshah, Eggleston
Ground Number: 247
Programme: Online only