Adventures in Football #28: “New” Meadow Park (Gloucester City AFC)
September 19, 2021
GLOUCESTER CITY AFC vs. LONGLEVENS AFC (FA Cup Qualifier)
Meadow Park was Gloucester’s ground between 1986 and 2007, when it was destroyed by flooding. In July of that year the ground found itself under eight feet of water from the River Severn after some of the worst flooding on record.
This was the third time the ground had flooded so Gloucester City AFC had been unable to get insurance to cover flooding (which is insane when you think about it). The new stadium sits on the site of the old one and thanks to flooding it’s been raised by 3.5 metres from the previous height. For those struggling with the maths; that’s 11.5 feet higher than it was previously. So, even the epic eight feet high floodwater of 2007 shouldn’t breach the new ground.
Over the past 13 years Gloucester have played their home fixtures at a variety of local stadiums including Forest Green, Cirencester, Evesham and even Cheltenham. Gloucester’s exile has coincided with their finest league performances. They were promoted into the Conference North, now the National League North, in 2009-10 season, and have stayed there. Two of their best FA Cup performances have occurred too; reaching the first round twice. Their best ever FA Cup performance was in 1990 when they took Cardiff to a replay in R2. They were winning 2-0 at Ninian Park in the first game.
Gloucester have one of the most staggering ground histories of the teams I’ve been to see. They’ve had 19 home grounds since being formed in 1883. That’s not a typo. They’ve had nineteen home grounds. In a city that’s more interested in rugby it’s not a surprise that football is an afterthought but even so, this is a staggering number. They settled in at Longlevens in 1936 and remained for 28 years before moving to Horton Road when the Longlevens ground was sold for housing. Horton Road doubled as a greyhound track until the late 1970s. Gloucester moved to the original Meadow Park in 1986 with Horton Road being turned into housing.
Three divisions separate Gloucester and Longlevens. The latter were actually drawn at home but opted to play the game at Gloucester as only three miles separate the two grounds. Gloucester isn’t that far from me either and we casually leave the house at 1.15pm, fill up on petrol and still get into Gloucester with time to spare. That’s with some odd road closures and being buzzed by a landing helicopter on the A40. The club recommend parking at the local Sainsbury’s because it has three hours free parking, and we comfortably get out inside three hours. Great tip. The walk to the ground includes strolling down a pathway between residential and the back of a factory.
When we get to the ground we discover the weather forecast (20C, sunny, warm) is a lie. The sun doesn’t show its face once and for a lengthy spell either side of half time it rains heavily. The track up to the ground is weird. It feels unfinished. The floor is gravel and there are containers by the side. On the way into the actual ground there are Portaloos. Are these just here because of an anticipated bumper cup crowd? Possibly.
We get mark pics with the mascot, whose name I can’t find and get our wristbands, which are required to prove you have a seat. Mine takes a few hairs out of my forearm. I’m a bit miffed nobody checks it either. We walk straight into the ground and just sit down in the front row by the corner. I feel like they would be decent seats if any goals are scored at that end. I am very wrong. The ground has astro turf and mobile goals, which are two things the purist in me cannot stand.
Opposite us is the Big Screen Bar, which looks suspiciously like a container with another container stacked on top. The big screen does work and displays the score and time throughout the game. On our side are two large stands (City Stand and the 1883), either side of the 1883 bar. The back of which has the changing rooms in it. I know this because we walked past it and could see players inside. Off to our right is the ‘Gloucester City End’. I’m reticent to call it the home end because technically Longlevens are at home. It’s known locally as the T-End.
There’s not much space for fans at either this end or the far side of the pitch where it’s about two deep standing. The other standing end, the West Stand, is a little more spacious although it’s not all covered like the T-End pictured above.
It’s a big, big crowd for this ground, 2,320 announced, and it’s mixed with supporters from each team rubbing shoulders with each other. For two close neighbours some are fans of both teams. Although it’s clear early on that Longlevens are the crowd favourites as they’re massive underdogs. The club are treating it as a day out and the ‘happy to be here’ vibe is everywhere. I’m struck by how everyone seems to know each other. I lose count of the amount of people that walk past and wave at someone behind me in the stand.
The Longlevens fans are in fine voice and sing “Hey Jude” to their club name. I would be enjoying myself if it wasn’t for the standing fans constantly blocking the seated view. I get that the ground is packed but standing directly in front of someone in a seat is a dick move. The stewards move them in the first half but disappear in the second leaving me with no view to speak of. The ground’s small perimeter is put the test constantly by meaty defensive clearances. I lose count of the amount of balls that sail over the stands either from clearances or wayward shots.
The atmosphere is weird in our section. Most of the noise consists of people having a chat, including a group of lads who are talking about Man Utd. I see Man Utd and Liverpool shirts. This is a pretty egregious faux pas for me. I would not consider wearing a shirt to a game if that team weren’t playing unless it was a foreign club or something. I wore a Leipzig shirt to Worcester Raiders for example but I wouldn’t wear a Man Utd shirt to any other team in England. You see it a lot in non-league.
The crowd comes to life when Longlevens equalise and all that hope leads to a half-time sing song. On 50’ all that hope is crushed by Danny King firing home his second, of three. I couldn’t actually see it because of the prick stood directly between me and the goal. I eventually gave up and went to stand at the back of the stand. The stewards didn’t seem to give a shit. So, I got soaked and couldn’t see a lot of the game.
Gloucester won 3-1 and that’s with a narrow offside goal being chalked off and missing a few decent chances. As soon as they discovered they could turn the Longlevens defence at will and get in behind them the game was completely over as a contest. Longlevens gave it their best shot but were clearly out of their depth. If I’d know how inept the stewards were going to be, and how heavy the rain was going to be, there’s no way I’d have sat where I did and it ruined the game for me, sadly. Luckily you, the readers, can avoid a similar fate by simply standing or sitting away from the corner. I hope you enjoy your visit to “New” Meadow Park more than I did!