Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Yeovil Town and Plymouth Argyle may not be household names like their compatriots from London or Manchester but compared to the “lesser” clubs across the counties of Somerset, Devon and Gloucester, the aforementioned quartet rule the roost in the west country.
In Somerset, it's the two Bristol sides that dominate the fanbase within the local communities. City remain the larger of the two teams and the exploits of the region’s Conference South representative, Bath City, are cruelly overlooked.
Formed in 1889 as Bath AFC, the Romans were denied entry into the Football League back in 1978 and, as a result, have spent their 124-year history in non-league football, during which time they have changed their name to Bath Railway in 1902 before eventually settling for Bath City.
Plying their trade in a city which is largely dominated by Bath Rugby – the fact that football is overruled by rugby in the local pubs when the Aviva Premiership side play reinforces this – doesn't aid their cause, not to mention Team Bath FC, who ground-shared with City from 2004 until their resignation from the Conference South in 2009.
Such is the financial insecurity surrounding the club that it was reported in January that chairwoman Manda Rigby was open to the prospect of selling Twerton Park in a bid to save the club from folding. Last year, fans were offered the chance to rename the stadium for as little as £50, with the winner being selected at random.
While the change would only have lasted one season it was an impressive way to raise funds for the club, with Rigby herself entering the draw only to keep her choice of name a secret. Fortunately, with the club encouraging traditionalists to enter, the name remained Twerton Park, a far cry from 2008 when then chairman Geoff Todd had held talks with Bath Rugby over a possible ground-share at the 12,000-seater Recreation Ground close to the weir.
It is a rather distressing turn of events for the west country club, which, regardless of its lowly position on the footballing ladder, is a club with a noteworthy history, securing the Somerset Premier Cup on no less than 21 occasions, twice being runners-up in the Anglo-Italian Cup - a competition that has boasted the likes of Newcastle United, AS Roma, Blackpool and Napoli during its peak in the 1970s - and winning the Southern League, Level 7 on the footballing ladder, three times.
The list of players to have played their football at Twerton Park is more illustrious than some may imagine. The most notable in the modern day is current Queens Park Rangers striker Bobby Zamora. Beginning his senior career with Bristol Rovers after stints with east London youth side Senrab FC - famed for bringing through John Terry, Ledley King and Paul Koncheskey in the past - before being released by West Ham United after failing to land a professional deal, Zamora signed with the Pirates in 1999.
Having failed to really crack the first team Zamora was sent on a one-month loan to Bath in early 2000, where it became apparent that he possessed a knack for finding the back of the net on a regular basis. He scored an astonishing 11 goals in eight games during the latter half of the Romans’ Southern League campaign.
A move to Brighton & Hove Albion was secured and the rest, as they say, is history. Yet, it can be argued that it was with Bath City that Zamora rose to prominence after failing to net for Bristol Rovers during his short time at the Memorial Stadium.
It wasn't just Zamora that enjoyed stints at the west country side, with Jason Dodd beginning his career at Twerton Park. The now 42-year-old was born in Bath and it was with his local club that he caught the eye of Southampton.
After coming through the ranks he went on to make 11 first team appearances and scored once before he signed for Saints in 1989. He spent 16 years at Southampton – including a loan spell with Plymouth Argyle in 2004 – and made close to 400 appearances at the Dell and St Mary's.
Alan Skirton, another Bath local, also began his career with the club prior to his switch to Arsenal in 1960, appearing over 300 times combined for the two clubs. Former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean spent time at Twerton Park between 1991 and 1992.
Their exploits are eclipsed by a player who, sadly, passed away in 1997. Charlie Fleming, or 'Cannonball Charlie', was a key figure for Bath City between 1958 and 1965, turning out 300 times for the club and finding the back of the net in 216 as City won the Southern League and Somerset Premier Cup during his seven years in the west country after three years with Sunderland.
While three of these players played in Premier League, not to mention Skirton's six years with Arsenal, it's the achievements of Fleming that are the most impressive.
Prolific in the 18-yard box and ending his career with 395 goals in 580 appearances – an average of 1.46 goals per game – ‘Cannonball’ went into management at the helm of Bath and then Trowbridge Town. It's criminal that 'Cannonball' only won one senior cap with Scotland, in 1953. He scored twice.
To see Bath City in their current predicament is a cruel turn of events for a club that has a vast and lengthy history in a location that is dominated by rugby and has much larger teams just 12 miles down the A4.
Bath are in the middle of the Conference South, ten points behind a playoff place, and the possibility of selling Twerton Park looms over the horizon as a result of “50 years of debt accumulating,” according to Rigby. It could turn out to be a sour ending to 124 years of existence, cruelly unjust for a team that has boasted a host of star players in the past.
This article is by Ben McAleer. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photograph by Nick Sarebi, via Flickr.
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