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Melksham Town hosts 125th anniversary match for the Western League

Managers Paul Fairclough and Darren Perrin

MELKSHAM Town Football Club hosted a special match earlier this month at Oakfields to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Toolstation Western League.

More than 500 spectators saw a Western League representative team, made up of players from the Premier and First Division of the Toolstation Western League, picked and managed by Melksham Town chair Darren Perrin, take on the England C Team (FA XI), who represent England at non-league level, on Wednesday 11th October.

The action-packed match saw the Western League team draw 2-2, with the England C team with Melksham Town’s Dan Demkiv scoring for the Western League. Town’s Warren Maidment and Mike Perrott also represented the club on the pitch.

Manager for the evening and chair of Melksham Town, Darren Perrin said, “It was an absolute honour to manage the Western League team, I thoroughly enjoyed it. From the club’s perspective, hosting the event was a huge success. The feedback we have received from the England C team, the Western League and FA representatives has been unbelievable. It has been said that we will be considered to host other games in the future.

“The club and I are delighted that the evening went off perfectly. It was a fitting game for the 125th anniversary of the league.”

Match report by Kerry Miller, press and media officer for the Toolstation Western League.

The driving rain and wind which threatened to drown out the whole night, thankfully abated early enough to entice a crowd to watch the match at the newest ground in what is the third oldest league in the country.

Guests from many clubs, leagues and FAs attended as England C team manager Paul Fairclough brought a side picked predominantly from Southern League clubs based in the south and west. Gosport Borough, Salisbury, Basingstoke Town, Dorchester Town, Wimborne Town and Winchester City were represented, as well as Mangotsfield United and Larkhall Athletic more locally, and both teams showed what they could do in a fast-paced opening on Melksham’s immaculate playing surface which is made for quick passing football.

The FA XI had much of the early possession and looked to stretch Darren Perrin’s Western League side’s defence and Larkhall’s Joe Tumelty tested Bradford Town’s Jamie Bartlett from a distance to warm up the crowd, many of whom would rarely have seen football played at such pace and with such  accuracy.

The Western League then broke from the initial shackles and imposed themselves on the game and following a defensive error, Melksham’s Dan Demkiv found himself free around the edge of the penalty area but Salisbury’s keeper Charlie Searle was equal to his effort at the expense of a corner. Bradford’s Dan Cottle then tried his luck but was denied by Searle, but he could do nothing on nine minutes as the Western League took the lead. Demkiv’s ferocious pace took him clear on the right and his low cross was converted with a lack of fuss by Demkiv on his home turf.

With their next attack the Western League almost made it two when Bitton’s Joe McLennon brought a fingertip save out of Searle and it forced the FA XI out of their shell briefly and Salisbury’s Tom Whelan and Wimborne Town’s Luke Holmes both went close.

The Western League always looked faster to the ball and the FA were having real trouble in coping and after McLennon had fired just over it was 2-0. Demkiv expertly beat the offside trap two yards inside the FA half and having clear of the defence he slid home the second on 22 minutes.

Basingstoke Town’s Sam Smart then attempted to ignite a revival on the half hour when his whipped cross was just cleared away from Wimborne’s Toby Holmes, but the speed of the game was beginning to tell and referee Sam Allison cautioned Mangotsfield United’s Jake Elliot, Luke Holmes and Salisbury’s Elliot Wheeler in a short spell before the break, all for fouls which were clumsy without being malicious. Searle made the final save of the half to keep out a Demkiv effort and the Western League XI were well deserving of their half-time lead.

Fairclough reacted at the break by introducing Gosport Borough keeper Matt Cafer, Winchester City’s Josh Harfield, Dorchester’s Billy Lowes and Basingstoke’s Jack McKnight and it seemed to work as his side took over in the main and had much more of the ball.

Unsurprisingly the pace eased, but Elliott went close with a shot which went just over and McKnight was wide with another and Perrin then rested some of his hard-working squad, introducing Luke Alden from championship-chasing Willand Rovers, Asa White from Odd Down and Clevedon Town’s Ryan Gissing.

The FA got stronger as the game went on and it was no surprise when Basingstoke’s Dan Bayliss drove home their first from the left with around 12 minutes left to set up a grandstand finish.

Melksham’s Mike Perrott twice went close to clinching the win but in the end it was denied them as Smart slung in a cross and final substitute Callum Bunting from Basingstoke converted to make it 2-2 for a fitting climax to what was a fine game and an occasion worthy of a fine league.

PHOTO Credit: John Cuthbertson