Bath City lost to Braintree Town Tuesday night 2-0. Coming as it did at the end of a long string of important games full of emotional ups and downs, it was bound to be a difficult match. Braintree, being in Essex, is also the farthest distance City will travel this season (for a league match - I'm not counting Grimsby). For several complicated, contentious, and slightly boring reasons, the match had to be played on a Tuesday evening when the players in City's small squad would be tired, not only from matches, but from a day at work as well.
I wish I had gone for many reasons, but to be honest, one of them is just so I could see what a place named 'Braintree' looks like. I know that there is no way it could be nearly as gruesome as the name suggests. Any town lumbered with such an unappealing moniker, however, must be a place with some character. Any community with even a hint of marketing nous would have changed its name long ago. So much of modern life is bland and monochrome that even the prospect of seeing something truly ugly is enticing. And then, of course, Braintree might turn out to be a green and pleasant place full of charming locals. This would only deepen the mystery of the name.
Braintree has not always been called 'Braintree.' In the Doomsday Book it is listed as 'Branchetreu.' At some point in the following five hundred years (some point when the Town Fathers were evidently napping or feeling especially ambivalent) the name went through a linguistic shift. So far as I know, the resulting combination of flora and internal organs is unique.
If ever there was needed proof that a disagreeable name is no barrier to developing civic pride, Braintree is it. I say this not just because the great people with Braintree have kept with a name that runs against the modern trends of rebranding and insipid redevelopments. No, the name of 'Braintree' has been exported. New England, in American, was settled mostly by English Puritans. Back in the 16th Century, Essex was a Puritanism's main stronghold. Those people familiar with modern-day Essex might find it strange to know that it was once the home of a devout religious sect. It is important to remember, though, that modern day Essex is perhaps a result of all of these Puritans leaving.
Having arrived in the virginal, undeveloped land that we now call Massachusetts, these Essex transplants could name their settlements by any name they chose. There were no rules and no precedents. Despite this glorious opportunity, some homesick Essex puritan named his township south of Boston 'Braintree.' Apparently no one minded too much because fifty years later someone else named another town in Massachusettes 'New Braintree.' In my opinion it is a name America could have done without, especially twice, but this is what the sentimentality of homesickness produces. I suppose someday in the far future when we are settling Mars someone from Middlesex will go there and name his colony 'Staines.'
The supporters of Braintree Town show this same tendency to revere the unattractive. The club was founded in 1898 as the company team of the Crittall Window Company. There is nothing unusual about a club having its origins in a company team, but it is unusual to celebrate this history with a silhouette of the abandoned company factory on the club badge. I have yet to find another club badge that sports floodlights, either.
Of course, Bath City supporters are in no position to throw stones when it comes to loyalty to the unfashionalbe. Following any non-league club, in fact, can lead to behaviour traits that leave the normal person slack-jawed with disbelief. Imagine if you will, leaving Twerton Park in Bath at 2pm on the official supporters coach for a match set to kick-off at 7:45 pm. Roughly five hours later you turn up in Braintree in the cold and dark to watch a match that most football fans in this country are entirely oblivious to. Braintree Town are a good side at our level, so Bath City's chances in a mid-week fixture at the end of a long run of tough matches are not great. Once the match is finished the earliest the journey home could begin is 10pm, meaning the earliest you could make it back to the warmth of your duvet would be some time before 3am. Who in their right mind would do such a thing?
Twenty Bath City supporters made the journey in the end. As I said, I was not one of them. I had toyed with the idea of taking a day off work to go but instead decided to cash in my brownie points for the much nearer away match in Woking on the 19th.
Here is what these brave souls saw for their money: City enjoyed some early dominance, but failed to convert this to anything other than a few corner kicks. Against the run of play, George Purcell converted a free kick from just outside the penalty area. He managed to bypass City's wall and stick it in the corner of the net. After the goal City still enjoyed the majority of possession but struggled to capitalise. Towards the end of the half Sido Jombati made a strong appeal for a penalty which was disregarded. Braintree took the opportunity to push the ball forward. Purcell manged to beat City keeper Ryan Robinson for a second time, this time from much shorter range.
The second half was by all accounts a forgettable affair. City's midfield enforcer Mark Badman was forced off at fifty minutes with an undisclosed injury. His absence was sorely felt and, as far as I can tell, not much of significance happened for the rest of the match. Hardly worth the ten hour return trip on a Tuesday evening, I suppose.
I strongly doubt, however, that any of the twenty City fans who made the ten hour return trip regretted it. Justifying such a trip on entertainment value alone would be difficult if following non-league football was just about entertainment. By normal standards of the day there was almost nothing of value during the whole enterprise, other than the camaraderie of fellow sufferers.
Normal standards of the day are, thankfully, an unwelcome presence in the world of non-league football. If you want to follow football for 'entertainment,' served with regularity in an easily accessible format, stay home and watch the Premiership on Sky. Even though I know that Bath City lost, and in unexciting fashion, I still wish I had been able to go to Braintree. Even the not-so-nice parts of supporting Bath City are important to me. Like a home town, Bath City is a community that I am part of, and as such it is important to take the good and the bad.
And so I cannot blame the Braintree supporters for choosing to memorialise an abandoned factory, or the citizens of Braintree for exporting such an unappetising name to America. We do strange things for the things we love.
Match pictures provide by 'stillmanjunior.'