Adventures in Football #7: The Recreation Ground (Fairfield Villa)
July 13, 2021
FAIRFIELD VILLA VS. AFC SOLIHULL (PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY)
What? I’ve never heard of this “Parma”. NB: the swan comes from the Swan pub where the team was originally put together.
It’s no secret Bromsgrove is my home town. I wrote, at length, about my love story with Bromsgrove Rovers as a football club but Rovers, and now Sporting, are not the only football team within walking distance of my house. I mean, everywhere is technically walking distance from my house but this is well within five miles. Fairfield has been there on my doorstep for my entire life. It’s where my dad grew up and he loves the little country roads. It reminds him of his childhood.
I’ll get the chance to chat to him about it because for today’s ground, I’ll be talking a stroll with my old man. Fairfield Villa were founded in 1902, with a slight break in the 50s, and they started playing at their current home in 1959. They also spent some time away from the Rec in the 90s due to the ground not being up to scratch for the Midland Football Combination league. They managed to return to the Rec for their centennial season. Somehow I’ve never been there.
Fairfield is a little village just outside Bromsgrove. It’s similar in that regard to nearby Bournheath. Both have a smattering of excellent pubs that do great food. My personal favourite is the Gate at Bournheath but the Swan at Fairfield is nice too and I’ve been there as recently as 2019. Every time we head out that way I’ve seen the “Fairfield Recreation Ground: Home of Fairfield Villa FC” sign out by the road.
The game was a freebie so we rocked up 15 minutes before kick-off and went for a stroll around the pitch. At the front, behind the goal, is the car park, which is asking for trouble. If that’s not bad enough, the other end leads straight into a wood. Any overhit shots at that end are squirrel food. When we got there one of the club officials was desperately searching for a ball that had been hit into the undergrowth. In the far left hand corner there’s a path and I can’t help but think I’ve walked down it at one point. It just feels familiar. So I took a picture of it. NB: note “public footpath” on the road sign above too.
That’s right in the corner of the ground. You could go a hike through it. I think I have at some point! Next door is a primary school and it’s the one my dad went to when he was a nipper, which is going back a while.
He kept pointing out various buildings that weren’t there when he was younger. Luckily I didn’t get the “this was all fields” line because it still is. The ground is out in green belt territory so there’s no danger of any new neighbours. The whole game long we could hear the distant roar of cars from the M5, which runs across the back of the ground.
This is the back of the goal, where you can see the woods that the balls get lost in. AFC Solihull appear to have turned up without their kit, or with one that clashed, because they’re wearing Fairfield Villa’s away kit. No one told them about shorts though and I can count three different coloured shorts on the same team. I’ve never seen that before. Attendance for today’s game is 23. I know, I counted. There’s room for roughly a thousand people around the edge of the pitch but to watch a team where three different coloured pairs of shorts? Nah.
We don’t have to wait long for a goal as the inverted winger, #7 for Fairfield, Wicketts cuts inside and curls a left footed effort past the keeper. Wicketts looks like a decent player but he came off at half time (tbf, most of the team changed at half time). Fairfield opt to attack the woods end first half and the car park end second half. I can only assume that’s due to the uneven ground the car park end sits on. I don’t think I’ve been able to capture the uneven surface here but the ground drops away sharply behind the goal and the keeper’s area is on a tiny hill. Yes, that is a child on the pitch. Kids ran around at half time.
In a post Covid world there wasn’t enough dressing room space for both teams so AFC Solihull had their team talk and orange segments over on the far side.
The lack of ball boys is also an amusement to me. Every time the ball leaves the pitch the players just kind of glance at the nearest fan and hope they’ll get it. I found myself retrieving the ball four times and the poor bloke on the halfway line way more than that. My dad cunningly denied Solihull a quick throw by completely missing the ball when it rolled past him. The look on the full back’s face has me chuckling as I write this. There’s a lad sat behind the car park goal with his girlfriend and when he fires the ball back into play he gets a little round of applause from the missus!
Early in the second half (46 minutes to be precise) Walsh, who came on at HT, fires Fairfield 2-0 in front. Somewhat against the run of play and Solihull were not awake at the start of the second half. They also have an interesting formation. I think it’s supposed to be three at the back but two of the lads are really far wide so it looks like yer man’s radical one centre back FM formation from 2020 that he swears works and Birmingham City only conceded 80 goals in the Championship using it. As the second half progresses the setting sun becomes a liability. No one can see the ball. This leads to several hilarious miscued efforts on goal. Perhaps Fairfield shouldn’t have played into the sun second half. They pay for this error of judgment by conceding a rocket from Solihull’s number 9. AFC Solihull looked really good going forwards, especially as the half wore on and they could have gotten a better result.
There’s more nonsense before we head off as a dog runs onto the pitch in the corner and a couple of lads are amusing themselves by riding bikes around the pitch. The open plan approach has it’s downsides. There’s also no floodlights so I can only assume Fairfield don’t normally play night games. It certainly explains the 7pm kick off.
FINAL SCORE: 2-1 Fairfield Villa.
This game summed up everything I love about non-league. It was a shambles but it was also fun. It was exactly the game I needed to remind me of football’s purity after the Euro final. There’s no food review or anything because although the bar was open I’m still a little dubious about going into them. I’d literally had my second Covid jab that afternoon. As the season rattles ever closer expect more Groundhopping as I go and explore this countries footballing heritage!