Bedworth United
The Oval

Ground No. 229
Visited - Monday 25th April 2011
Result - Bedworth United 1-2 Atherstone Town
Competition - Southern League, Division One Central
Attendance - 151

To most people, the sports ground that you would most associate with the name ‘The Oval’ would be the one used for cricket in London, home of both Surrey CCC and England test matches, however if you were to ask me, I’d probably end up asking whether you meant the Bebbington Oval on the Wirral, home of possibly the oldest stand in England, or Bedworth United’s home ground which shares the name! I’m not most people…

Situated close to the town centre, it’s unusual that it lies within a local park, an area set aside for sporting recreation that dates back to the Victorian era. Coal mining was once the largest industry here, with pits operating right up into the 1990s before the last one closed, and it was the Miners Welfare Association that paid to build what on a sunny day is a beautiful facility that you can easily see was deserving of its recent award as the best park in Britain. I’d been wanting to come here for some time, and had got it pencilled in for New Years Day 2010, only for the weather to intervene, but fast forward 14 months, and Easter Monday’s local derby against Atherstone Town seemed as good a match as any to finally tick it off, meeting up with Duncan from the Football Ground Guide for the day, firstly taking in an early kick-off at nearby Nuneaton Town, a revisit to Liberty Way for me, before making the short 15 minute drive into Bedworth just in time to park up as the referee blew his whistle to get the days second game underway.

Football in the town can be traced back to 1895, when the first Bedworth Town side were formed, becoming founder members of the Nuneaton and District League three years later. By 1900 though, they had disbanded, and five years later, another local side, Bedworth Evening Combination School took over the Town moniker, moving to play at the current ground which was then known by the less flattering name of ‘The Knob’! They achieved some minor success before disbanding in the early 1920’s, only for a third team, Collycroft United to take over the Town name in 1925. Almost as if a poisoned chalice, they weren’t to last either, themselves disbanding just before the war, after having renamed themselves Bedworth Central in 1938. Undeterred, the locals seemed determined to keep the name alive, and following the end of hostilities, the fourth Bedworth Town side were formed in 1947, joining what was to become known as the West Midlands Regional League in 1954, before they too repeated the pattern of history, and disbanded in 1968, with the Town name finally dropped for good when a new club was formed as Bedworth United, taking over Town’s WMRL place, before joining the Southern League four years later. Other than seven years in the Southern Premier during the late 80s, since then, the club have always played in the Southern League’s various formats of its 1st Division, struggling to ever challenge for promotion, their glory period being between 1979-1982 when they claimed their most prominent silverware to date by winning the Birmingham Senior Cup for three out of four years on the trot. Despite the lack of success, they do hold one notable record, in that The Oval was host to the Southern League’s (post reformation) attendance record, when a mammoth 5,172 turned out for the local derby with Nuneaton in February 1982. It’s fair to say that there were slightly less there when we arrived and went in, over 5000 less in fact!

Whilst lying within the grounds of the park, the ground itself is fully enclosed, with large hedges at the near end where we came in. It gets its name from the fact that there used to be an athletics track here at one time, although one suspects, especially with the age of the park, and steeped banks, that it may once have hosted cycling as well. All traces of other sport though are gone now, and on what was a beautiful sunny day, it looked at its best, the trees surrounding it on all four sides giving it a particularly pleasant feel, even if the hard, dusty pitch was looking well used after a long season of football. Hard standing runs around all four sides, with both the ends dominated by curving grass banks, with a car park beyond at the far end. The Main Stand sits on the far side, and is raised quite high from pitch level, almost camouflaged against the leafy backdrop with its roof and supports painted green. The nearside is taken up the dressing rooms and clubhouse, where further cover is provided with a propped roof jutting out from the buildings to shelter those standing pitchside. Interestingly, in both corners on the far side sit two small covers, presumably providing shelter for disabled spectators.

Going into the game, neither side particularly had anything to play for. Bedworth were safely ensconced in mid-table mediocrity, whilst Atherstone had already opted to drop out of the league at the end of the season due to financial issues. It showed, in what turned out to be a typical end-of-season affair, the first half being especially tedious to watch. The home side dominated for the most part and took the lead just before half time when Alex Dean converted a penalty that had been given for a trip in the area. A young Adders side didn’t seem to be able to cope with their older, more experienced opponents, but in the second half, they came out brighter, more determined and equalised thanks to a great goal from Tom Weale, who ran with the ball, cutting in from the left before hammering it home from distance in the 66th minute. It seemed to stir the home side into action, and they forced a number of corners themselves, before with 12 minutes to go, the visitors took the lead, Olly Babbington lobbing the keeper from the edge of the area to make it 2-1. The hosts continued to press, and really should have got a share of the points at the end from two golden chances, the first from Levi Ramsey who saw his header destined for the bottom corner only for Adders keeper Thomas Allen to somehow get down low to make a save that Gordon Banks would have been proud of, and then deep into injury time Kurtis Mewies found himself free in the box, unmarked ready to lash the ball home only instead blasting it over from six yards. Still, the win seemed to really mean something for the visitors, the team all very young as a result of the clubs financial problems offering hope of a recovery in the seasons to come.

Afterwards, we stayed to have a walk around and take in the surroundings before heading off to the Greyhound Pub just down the road, prior to making our way home. On a warm sunny day the ground can only be described as fantastic, a real gem that is worth trying to take in. As for how 5000 once fitted in here, who knows, but in contrast to Liberty Way stuck out on the edge of an industrial estate, then this was definitely a welcome antithesis!

The Miners Welfare Park

Entrance to the Park

Not your normal 'Rear of Stand' picture!

Rear of the Main Stand

Welcome to the Oval

The Turnstiles

The Near End

The Near Side

The Far Side

Disabled Supporters Stand

The Main Stand

The Far End

The Far Side

The Clubhouse

Seating in the Main Stand

Bum Cosy!

Ready for the Second Half to begin

The Far End

The Near End

The Oval Panoramic
(click here for full size picture)


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