So what makes a City?


St Albans City, Chelmsford City, Worcester City, Stoke City.  Four of the twenty one clubs in the top three levels of football in England that carry the suffix City.  But are they allowed to?  What defines a city?  Well according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a City is defined as “a large town that has a cathedral”.  If this is the case why can Stoke call themselves Stoke City, and what about Manchester?  as far as my local knowledge goes there is no cathedral in the city at all?

Well, there is another definition.  “City status is a rare mark of distinction granted by the Sovereign and conferred by Letters Patent. It is granted by personal Command of The Queen, on the advice of Her Ministers. It is for Her Majesty The Queen to decide when a competition for city status should be held. Competitions are usually held on occasions such as important Royal anniversaries.” So essentially it is up to Liz who can and cannot be a city, and thus we have the likes of upstarts such as Truro, Lichfield and Preston who can now carry the title.

According to my rough calculations, if every football club who played in a city carried the name “city”, there would be double the amount of teams than there are today.  But it is still quite rare for two City’s to meet – to battle over who is a true city (according to Cambridge) and which ones have just sent the Queen a nice Christmas hamper each year.  In the Blue Square Premier the four City’s, Bath, St Albans, Worcester and Chelmsford all proudly own Cathedrals.  In fact BritainExpress.com guide to cathedrals says Chelmsford’s has “splendid new organs”.  So a meeting against the second largest church in the UK, St Albans would be a battle of heraldry surely?

After a morning of smashing up more concrete (now in week three of this tiresome task) CMF had given me the afternoon off, and with absolutely no interest in the latest FA money making scheme of a high profile friendly against the 54th highest ranked country in the world, Slovenia (higher than Wales granted, but lower than Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Honduras and Gabon) I looked into the footballing crystal ball and out popped Bishops Stortford v Bath City.  Brilliant.  Less than an hour’s drive, easy to find from the motorway and a club house where I could have a beer whilst watching the game whilst Lolly took up her new job as TBIR’s official photographer.  All was going according to plan until an accident on the M11 just before the M25 junction ground us to a halt.  My TomTom at that point picked up a traffic report and told me to avoid that section of the route, and the new route involved doing a U-Turn on the M11 and driving back down the wrong carriageway (last week it tried to get me to cross a railway line on a foot bridge in Enfield).  We needed a plan B, and a quick call to TBIR HQ had a list of alternatives, a sum total of one – Chelmsford City v St Albans.

And so that is how I ended up there.  Not through design, more divine intervention.  TomTom redeemed itself by guiding us to Melbourne Park, home of Chelmsford City since 2006.  Set to the north of the “city” in the middle of residential roads it is not a stadium I would be keen to watch my football at.  This is one of two “multi-purpose” venues in the Blue Square South this season (the other being Newport County) which means it is a blooming big Athletics track!  I have stated in the past how I hate watching games here as they always tend to be poor quality.

The club previously played at the New Writtle Street ground from their formation in 1938 until 1997 when the club was made homeless and shared grounds first with Maldon Town and then with Billericay Town at their New Lodge ground. In January 2006, the club moved back home to Chelmsford at the Melbourne Athletics Stadium, which is within Mebourne Park to the north of the city centre. Whilst it is nowhere near the biggest ground in the league, the club get the highest average attendances, which this season is near 1,400.

The club have recognised the playing arena is not ideal for spectators, and have installed temporary terracing behind each goal, which allows for the fans to swap ends at half time. These steps are close to the pitch. In fact they were so close that Lolly was able to continue a conversation with Chelmsford’s Keeper Craig Holloway throughout the game. We also noticed a couple of large holes in the net, which would have struggled to hold a decent shot – good to see the “assistant” referee do his job well.Further work is still required to bring the capacity up to 5,000, the requirement if they do get promotion to the Blue Square Premier, although the ambitious board would like to have a ground of their own in the not to distant future.

The club are still relatively new at this level, having only been promoted to the Blue Square South at the end of 2008, and last season they made an immediate impact, finishing in 5th place although a 3-1 defeat to Hampton & Richmond in the play-offs heralded a disappointing end to the season. The club had played in the highest level of the non-league pyramid for decades right up until the late 1970’s when they fell down the league structure.

After buying our now obligatory golden goal tickets, and a fantastic Bubble & Squeak, Bacon and Egg Bap – aka “Doreen’s special”, we took our place with the dozen or so St Albans fans behind the goal, including the four Norwegian St Albans fans who had made the trip over from Oslo for the day via Stansted on the new route from Oslo Rygge which is only an hour away from the city centre as opposed to the two hour trip from Torp.

Chelmsford City 2 St Albans City 0 – Melbourne Park – Saturday 5th September 2009

Surely the linesman should have spotted the hole?

Surely the linesman should have spotted the hole?

OK was it any surprise it wasn’t a classic? Chelmsford did enough, battled harder and created the chances in a game that was spoilt by inconsistent refereeing that ended their 3 game losing run. The open exchanges failed to reveal who would finish on top, with both teams reluctant to push forward. St Albans were well marshaled by the giant centre back, Luke Thurlbourne, and his tussles at set pieces with the taller Chelmsford defender Ben Martin livened up proceedings.

In fact Thurlbourne and Adam Everitt were already in the referee’s notebook before the home team took the lead. Chelmsford’s Cook put the ball in between the two St Albans centre backs and Murray slide the ball home. We eagerly opened our Golden Goal tickets to see we had missed the prize by just 2 minutes. Still at least we could win 2nd prize if the next goal waited until the 85th minute.

Half time came and the mass exodus from behind the goal started. Holloway came out and invited Lolly to come and play in the goalmouth with a bucket and spade as there was so much sand there, and confident of not being disturbed a spider started weaving a web in the Chelmsford goal, christened Dave by Lolly who was now back from her photo taking adventures.

“Chelmsford were as comfortable as a side could be with just a one-goal advantage but they still hunted the second they craved to put the result beyond doubt.” They quote on their website, and apart from a golden chance for the St Albans substitute when he headed wide when unmarked in the six yard box it was all one way traffic.

Eighty five minutes on the clock and Rob Edmans, the lanky Chelmsford substitute danced through the St Albans defence before placing the ball in the top corner of the net. We were a winner, according my watch, with the second golden goal and a cool crisp tenner. But no, we were overruled and the goal was timed at 86 minutes and 12 seconds. Robbed!Antonio Murray then hit a screamer onto the ball a few minutes later but we had gone by then, inconsolable at our loss.

We were back on the A12 within five minutes listening to the final scores. Bishop Stortford 1 Bath City 5…..hmmm and I bet we would have won the golden goal!

About Melbourne Park
After so long without a home of their own the club were hugely grateful to the local council for helping them return to the city in January 2006 with the opening of Melbourne Stadium as a multi-use venue.  Whilst the club have ambitions to own their own football only stadium they continue to do the necessary work to make the ground as good as possible for spectators.  There is one large main stand, with a few rows of terracing at the front, a few rows of seats on the far side of the ground and then temporary terracing (around 4 steps worth) behind each goal.  Views aren’t good from anywhere due to the athletics track, and in the winter when visibility is reduced it is hard to make out what is going on on the pitch.

How to get to Melbourne Park
From Junction 28 of the M25 join the A12 sign-posted Chelmsford. After approximately nine miles take the exit sign-posted Chelmsford/Harlow. You then join another dual carriageway which will take you past a golf course and countryside on your left hand side.  Continue along this road (for approximately two miles) until you reach the first of two roundabouts (they are close together). You then go straight across the first roundabout (note at this roundabout anyone driving in on the A414 will join). The A414 joiners should turn left at this point and drive up to the second roundabout.

At the second roundabout you take the first left, signposted Chelmsford Crematorium/Widford Industrial Area. Again you keep straight on this road, following the signs for the Town Centre and Hospital A&E. Along this road you will notice a Nissan Garage on your right and later a Fire Station, also on your right. After the Fire Station you are nearing the final set of lights on this road. Keep left as you approach these lights.

As you go through the lights keep left and enter the slip road. Ahead is a road signposted A1060 Sawbridgeworth. Take the A1060 turning (road name Rainsford Road). Stay on this road, through first set of lights. At second set of lights go into the right-hand filter lane and turn right. This takes you into Chignall Road. Stay on this road for a short while before turning right into Melbourne Avenue. Ahead you will see a tall block of flats, turn left immediately in front of them into Salerno Way. The entrance to the Stadium is via a left turn at the next mini-roundabout.

In order to make a 15:00hrs Saturday kick-off the latest train you should catch from London Liverpool Street is 12:48 to comfortably make kick-off and from Ipswich you’d need to catch the 12:42. To make a midweek 19:45hrs kick-off, leave London Liverpool Street no later than 18:22 and Ipswich by 18:11.  There is a Taxi Rank at the rear of the station and the applicable Bus Route runs from the other side of the road, under the viaduct at the front of the station while the Bus Station is being rebuilt.

The above directions are provided by the official Chelmsford City website.

How to get a ticket for Melbourne Park
Whilst the capacity is relatively small at Melbourne Park at just over 3,000, and average attendances are high, around 1,400, turning up on the day is never an issue here.  The is one set of turnstiles, at the end of the main car park and entry is £10 for a place on the terraces for Adults, and £3 for children with an additional £1 each for a transfer to the main stand.

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