GSA Sports
Abbey Park

Ground No. 194
Visited - Saturday 19th September 2009
Result - GSA Sports 5-5 Pilkington XXX
Competition - Midland Combination Premier
Attendance - 19

It always seems that the best or most notable games you go to turn out to be the ones that you pick as a backup option or hadn’t expected much from, and this was no different. I'd planned on going to Vauxhall Motors, but a late night and splitting headache put paid to that, so looking around the fixtures at about midday, options were pretty limited until spotting GSA Sports at home to Pilkington in the Midland Combination.

Tenants of Sporting Khalsa, the club are a little bit like the MK Dons of local non-league football. Originally named Barnt Green Spartak, they started life in the Worcestershire village of Barnt Green, near Redditch, yet after progressing up the football pyramid, they had to leave their own ground due to grading issues, going on to share mostly at nearby Alvechurch, as well as at Bromsgrove. All seemed to be going well as they settled into life at the top end of the Mid Comb Premier, but in the summer of 2008 they were bought out by the owners of Second Division side GSA, who changed the clubs name and moved them a good 30 miles north to play at the former Bloxwich Town ground, Abbey Park Stadium in Mossley (Walsall). It's a ground I'd wanted to go to for a while, and with nothing else on seemed a good choice, so at about 1pm, I set off for the short journey.

After arriving, there was no one on the turnstile, so I just walked in, going up to someone in a shirt and tie to check about admission. He turned out to be a Pilkington official, who went on a tirade accusing GSA of being the most unorganised club in the league, (although I’d debate that having been at Walsall Wood last season only to see Pershore Town not turn up because they thought it was a 7:45pm kick-off!), but his concerns did seem to have some substance, with no one collecting money before the game started (which far from being glad at getting a freebie, I'd have quite happily paid, given how much clubs at this level need funds). The ground itself is located on the edge of the notorious Mossley estate and was largely developed in the mid-90s thanks to the ambitious Bloxwich Town, who were eager to catch up with Southern League side Blakenall who played just the other side of Bloxwich town centre at The Old Red Lion Ground. Hard standing runs around all four sides, notably sloping upwards in the corner at the far end, reminiscent of the pitch at Odsal, whilst the Main Stand on the far side originally saw action at Alvechurch’s Lye Meadow, having been moved here in 1996, along with the four floodlight pylons, which prior to being in use at Alvechurch, were part of a set of 8 that used to stand tall at Dudley Town’s Sports Centre Ground (the other four having moved with Dudley to Round Oak in Brierley Hill during the mid-80s). At the near end are the changing rooms in the corner and a small hut type building with an overhang in the far corner, where a few more seats are provided. According to Colin Peel’s book on West Midlands’ grounds there was a clubhouse behind the near goal as well, but this appears to have disappeared since the book was published in 1996.

So, from the mixed blessing of free entry, the game eventually got started and it opened with an absolute corker of a goal after 4 minutes when Myron Semper received the ball on the edge of the area, flicked it up, and smacked it home on the volley. Pilkington equalised on 22 minutes, which saw a flurry of goals, the visitors taking the lead, before the hosts drew level again in the 26th minute. But 'Pilks' went into the break 3-2 ahead thanks to a disputed penalty which saw GSA's number 4 receive a booking for handball, and then after the penalty had been scored a second yellow when he went off on one at the ref. The assessor from the FA in the stand (visible from a mile off in his smart suit and red FA tie) seemed to be madly scribbling as the half drew to an angry close, so his report should make interesting reading given how the young ref seemed to lose control a little bit with protests from both sides. In the second half Pilks made it 4-2 early on, before goals in the 65th and 70th minute saw the home side draw level, before falling behind for a third time when Pilkington's Brett Skinner scored an absolute cracker, the ball deflecting off a defender high into the air before dropping to him in the area, where with back to goal he connected perfectly to overhead kick it into the net. A truly fantastic goal that would grace any game, but this one wasn't over and five minutes later the scores were level again, Francis scoring for the home side. Pilkington were reduced to 10 men late on in injury time when their number 11 was sent-off for charging down a free kick too early and receiving a second yellow after repeated warnings, cue more remonstrations from the players and mad scribbling from the assessor, and with the last kick of the game the home side looked to have won it, only to see another free-kick they'd won on the edge of the area rebound off the bar, shortly before the ref blew for full time.

After the final whistle I made my way home with a smile. It was two records for me on the scoreline with it being the most goals I've seen in a game (having see nine a few times previously) and at the same time, the highest scoring draw I've seen, whilst with all this action on offer it ironically turned out to be the lowest attendance I've ever been a part of, the Midland Combination website recording it as just 19 (although a couple of headcounts varied between 26 at the start of the match and 34 just before half-time, albeit both including officials).

Despite the disappointing attendance though, it had been a good day out, with the game proof that anyone who dismisses this level of football clearly doesn't know what they're talking about. The players might not be as skilful as higher up the leagues, but for entertainment then it was far better than any Premier League game I've seen watching Wolves this season, and a decent ground as well, which whilst needing a lick of paint here and there and slightly basic in facilities, is certainly worthy of a visit.

Welcome to Abbey Park

Outside the Ground

The Dressing Rooms

The Near End

Looking across the Near End

The Far Side

Seats in the Main Stand

Ready for Kick Off

The Far End

The Far Side

The Near Side


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