In the latest of our popular Spotlight series, we get behind the scenes at Stoke Gifford-based Greyfriars Athletic, who run four men’s teams in the Bristol Premier Combination and Bristol and District leagues. Their robust 43-year-old long-serving secretary, B-team boss, co-treasurer and (allegedly!) former holding midfielder Kevin Wilkinson, a Premier Combination league match secretary too for his sins, chatted to Simon Parkinson about life on the football – and cricket – pitches . . .
Club: Greyfriars Athletic
Ground: Mile Straight Sports Club, New Road, Stoke Gifford, Bristol BS34 8SF
Managers: 1sts: Dave Crowley; 2nds: Paul Bold; 3rds: Kieran Powell; 4ths: Kevin Wilkinson
League status: Bristol Premier Combination, Premier One (1st XI); Bristol and District League Div 1 (2nd XI); District League Div 3 (3rd XI); District League Div 5 (4th XI)
Last season’s 1st XI final placement: 6th, Premier Combination, Premier One
Chairman: Ben McCarthy
Vice chairman: Richard Davies
Secretary: Kevin Wilkinson
Treasurers: Kevin Wilkinson/Richard Davies
Kevin, a little bird tells me it’s quite an interesting set-up you have there at Greyfriars
Yes, you could say it’s quite a family affair! We play at Mile Straight Sports Club in Stoke Gifford, a superb facility we share with Avon Athletic Juniors and Bohemians Cricket Club, and it’s all run by a joint Mile Straight committee.
We originated from Downs League football and the club came out of St Bonaventure’s Church. One of the halls there was called Greyfriars and the rest is history, 50 years of it in fact as we celebrate our big anniversary this season when we’re hoping to get a few ex-club players in to mark it.
We’ve been at Mile Straight for 20-odd years, although the excellent clubhouse facilities there are only six years old and built over two storeys, while there are two adult-sized pitches, two seven-a-side junior pitches and a cricket square in the middle.
The Mile Straight ground, which once belonged to Old Colstonians Rugby Club, is actually owned by Colston School.
We have our own strong committee and we’re big on the social side, with regular events such as quizzes and music nights, so there’s a lot of emphasis on having fun as well as trying to win football matches.
We’re fortunate as a club that we have about 90 players signed on and it means with four teams in operation, we rarely have to ask anyone to sit out.
Is that right your footballers have taken on the cricketers for an inter-sport match?
It certainly is! In fact the last such game was at Christmas. To put you in the picture we have ten or 11 of the Bohemians cricketers playing with us at Greyfriars, and just after Christmas we organised a football match at Southmead Athletic’s ground involving a mixture of players who turn out for all four of our sides, and the cricket lads.
We’d pulled names out of a hat for playing positions and suffice to say it didn’t work too well as far as our own Greyfriars hopes went! The cricketers were 4-2 up at half-time but we got it together a bit better and went on to beat them 7-6! It’s the third time we’ve had such a game, although I couldn’t tell you the other two outcomes.
It’s been talked about that we might get a cricket match on at some stage and I know the cricketers will want to exact some sweet revenge. I might even get the old kit out from my Frenchay Hospital CC days, where I was a batsman and wicketkeeper, and join in the action.
This season has been a struggle for your own B’s hasn’t it down in District Div Five?
Thanks for the reminder! We’re propping up everybody else but we finally managed to win our first game at the weekend, 2-1 away at Bristol Eagles. Shaun Martin’s chip from the left side over their keeper’s head from fully 30 yards out put us ahead and Steve Schwartz then chased their keeper down and nicked the ball off him for our second goal.
They’re both regular players. Shaun is small but nippy, and what Steve lacks a little in ability he more than makes up for with his wholehearted approach, although he tends to get caught offside rather too often.
Eagles are a good side and our goals came against the run of play in all honesty. They got a goal back with about 20 minutes to go and we’re then thinking, ‘here we go again’. But we held on and held on and you can imagine there was a fair bit of ecstasy in camp afterwards.
Our B boys were in the Bristol and Avon League a decade or so ago before joining the District League five or six years back.
Division Five actually offers a good standard of football and there are some well-organised teams. We compete well at times although as you can imagine being a B team, we’re not always the fittest and we’ve lost a lot of games late on.
The first XI and rest of the club are looking in pretty good shape right now aren’t they?
I’d say so, for sure. We’re thriving as a club and you only have to look at the fact that all four of our teams are each playing at the highest level they’ve ever performed at to see that.
Our firsts are a decent footballing side but they do struggle at times to put the ball in the net. If we had a prolific goalscorer, we’d be higher up the league without a doubt.
Our manager Dave Crowley’s in his mid-thirties and very passionate and animated on the line on matchdays. He is in his second season in charge, having been a striker with us, and he occasionally guests still for my B team.
The gaffer is helped by Tony Paisley, also a social secretary at Southmead CS Athletic, and Steve Hodgson, who both assist Dave. Tony’s eldest son Jonathan is a central midfielder of ours and recovering from injury. And at only 18 still he’s a decent prospect.
Tony’s other son is Joe, a goalkeeper, who is only 13 but is fast emerging through the ranks at Bradley Stoke United. He comes along with his old man to our games every Saturday and for Joe, getting to the age of 16 can’t come quickly enough!
We also have a vets team who play on Sundays and it’s their first season in the Bristol Casuals League. They are blessed with a pool of about 30 players which is just as well, as many of them stagger off the pitch injured each week.
It’s helpful to have a junior club like Avon Athletic on site and Paul Bold and Steve Hodgson both have - and had - sons playing for them. Paul’s son Owen is a keeper and is now training with us while Steve’s lad is a few years away yet from that.
We’ll never turn anyone away enthusiastic enough to join us.
So what are the hopes for Greyfriars Athletic, in the immediate future and beyond?
When it comes to ambition, we’re not in all honesty thinking about anything other than getting our firsts into the Premier Division of the Premier Combination.
Should we achieve that then we’d maybe have to come up with a plan, to see whether we would be in a position to progress to the next level up.
The encouraging news is the clubhouse and changing rooms are all up to a standard required for County League football, if not even higher than that. We’d have to do a few bits pitch-side but I’m sure that could be sorted quite easily.
I would love to see us having some success in the county cup competitions. We’ve been to about nine finals at various levels down the years and lost every single one of them! Winning the Senior Amateur Cup would certainly be a dream but any cup will do!
Aside from that I take a lot of heart from people like Mike Smardon, who is referee secretary of the District League. His stellar work in attracting referees into the game means 98 per cent of fixtures in that league are covered, which is no mean feat in today’s world.