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Gloucester City in Georgia - July 1991
It all started thanks to a home friendly with Dynamo Minsk on November 1st 1991 when the Georgian giants were so suitably impressed with the hospitality that they'd been shown at Meadow Park that they invited their hosts to their home country.

A happy group of City personell pose outside their hotel in Tbilisi
A happy group of City personell pose outside their hotel in Tbilisi

City were scheduled to play three games on their tour with the highlight being a televised match against Iberia (formerly Dinamo) Tbilisi but the tie was called off because the top Georgian team had extended their pre-season tour of Poland. The game was replaced with a fixture against Shevardeni, who themselves were a full time outfit and had finished ninth in the Georgian first division the previous season.
After a tough pre-season opener against Queens Park Rangers the Gloucester City tour party flew out to Moscow with British Airways, all paid for by departing Chairman Les Alderman in time for their first fixture at Napereuli on Friday July 26th.

Napereuli 1, Gloucester City 2 (26th July 1991)
Gloucester City did not know what to expect when they set off on the four hour coach journey from Tbilisi, their base in Georgia, to the wine growing region of Napereuli.

They found a neat, newly built ground with one grandstand and a team who wanted desperately to win and started at a fantastic pace.

Napereuli were led by player-manager Kako Atvashvilli, who set up almost every attack from midfield, while their leading striker is Soso Babulidze signed for around 50,000 from neighbours Telavi.

With an estimated 2500 spectators in the ground, many of them children, City struggled to cope in those early moments.

Napereuli, from the Georgian Second Division, were determined not to let their visitors settle and City found it tough in the heat.

The hosts are virtually full time players, they will be officially next season and City looked in trouble.

But City held on and then began to play their own game.

Jason eaton looked sharp in all three tour matches and he powered past goalkeeper Aleksi Osanashvilli in one dangerous raid. The keeper clearly fouled Eaton and brought him down, but that brought no reaction at all from the referee.

Seconds later though Eaton's shot was handled and a penalty was awarded. Jeff Meacham stepped up to score from the resulting penalty.

At half time Gloucester City were 1-0 ahead and delighted to be on top after a first half played in intense heat.

And there was better to come as John Freegard headed the second 11 minues after the interval.

Lee Rogers sent Steve Abbley racing away down the right and from the cross Freegard headed firmly into the corner.

At that stage Gloucester looked in complete control and Napereuli more and more disenchanted.

Another chance was lost when Brendan Hackett, going through alone, was hauled back as the referee blew for offside.

As Hackett appealed that he had not passed to anybody and could not possibly be offisde the Georgian referee realised his mistake but it was too late.

From almost being 3-0 ahead City were rocked as Napereuli hit back.

Derek Dawkins lost the ball on the edge of the home teams penalty area and left City in disarray.

The defensive cover was prepared and Gloucester were easily opened up as Kakha Kakhuidze lobbed the ball home, although it must be said that he looked some way offside when he sped away.

But Gloucester always looked in control and could have had more goals.

Freegard could not react quickly enough to steer the ball home when Eaton's snap header flew across goal, while Eaton almost scored after a one-two with Steve Talboys.

Eaton's shot went past goalkeeper Aleksi Osanashvilli but was cleared off the line.

By the end City were worthy 2-1 winners and that was a result which delighted them in what was the first match of a tough tour.

Napereuli : A Osanashvilli, M Eminashvilli, M Ivanaidze, S Khelchidze, I Asabasvilli, G Churtidze, Gia Backradze, Kako Atvashvilli, K Karkhuidze, S Babulidze, D Tsomiridze.

Gloucester City : L Bond, R Baverstock, J Meacham, D Dawkins (S Talboys), J Sherwood, L Rogers, S Abbley, B Hughes (D Webb), J Freegard, J Eaton, B Hackett.

Referee : Iuza Kandelaki

Man of the match : Steve Abbley returned to action after nearly a year out injured and produced an outstanding display.

Steve Millard on his feet shouting instructions during the match against Achaltsiche
Steve Millard on his feet shouting instructions during the match against Achaltsiche (Napereuli)

City players mix with their Napereuli opponents after their 2-1 victory in Achaltsiche
City players mix with their Napereuli opponents after their 2-1 victory in Achaltsiche

The tour party pose in front of an ancient cave village in Achaltsiche
The tour party pose in front of an ancient cave village in Achaltsiche

John Beacham swaps gifts with the local religious leader in Achaltsiche
John Beacham swaps gifts with the local religious leader in Achaltsiche

Mesxti 0, Gloucester City 2 (28th July 1991)
The town of Achaltsiche, on the Georgian-Turkish border and closed completely to everybody but residents by the Soviet authorities until last year was the scene of Gloucester City's second match of their tour.

The City squad had to travel five hours by coach to reach Achaltsiche and they were enthusiastically welcomed by people.

But facilities in the exceptionally poor town were extremely limited, the heat stifling and the pitch desperately poor - an uneven, hard surface with grass long in places and disappearing in others.

City travelled along a dirt track to reach the ground and gradually the spectators arrived for the local Georgian League Third Division side's match against the English tourists.

This was to prove the easiest of the three matches as Gloucester took control and rarely looked like letting the match slip away.

They were ahead after twenty-four minutes when Steve Fergusson rose well to head home from Dave Webb's corner and the second goal followed in thirty-six minutes.

Wayne Noble, in outstanding form, played a neat one-two with skipper Steve Talboys which completely opened up the home defence.

Noble ran through and easily beat the goalkeeper from close range.

More than three thousand people were watching the match and Gloucester produced a controlled display in the heat as they overcame the expected early burst of running by the home side and won.

Wayne Noble was City's best player on the night, excelling against an admittedly low par home team, while goalkeeper Len Bond was also outstanding.

Steve Abbley, who had switched from the right hand side of midfield in the first game to full back, again did well, while teenage defender Mark Madge stepped in and produced some good work.

Mesxti : A Makharadze, V Bekauri, D Gubeladze, H Gogoladze, K Martiashvilli, P Gogoladze, S Nakhapetiani, N Berkauri, Z Endeladze, A Mikailian

Gloucester City : L Bond, S Abbley (C Smith), J Meacham (L Rogers), M Madge, G Hancocks (M Malpas), D Webb, S Talboys (capt), R Chandler (B Hughes), S Fergusson, S Penny (J Freegard), W Noble.

Referee : Levan Chitaia

Man of the match : Wayne Noble... City's only full time player hit form in a big way. Noble, so talented, is often inconsistent and needs to hit this sort of form more often.

City players line up before the game against Mesxti
City players line up before the game against Mesxti

Geoff Hancocks in full flight during the match against Mesxti
Geoff Hancocks (right) in full flight during the match against Mesxti

Mark Madge, Brian Hughes and Steve Talboys in action against Mesxti
Mark Madge, Brian Hughes and Steve Talboys in action against Mesxti

Locals fill the ground to watch their team take on Gloucester City
Locals fill the ground to watch their team take on Gloucester City

Shevardeni 2, Gloucester City 2 (30th July 1991)
Steve Fergusson, the striker who will miss the start of the Beazer League season because of suspension kept his nerve to save Gloucester City in the final and hardest match of their Georgian tour.

With only five minutes left City were 1-2 down against a powerful Shevardini team from the top division in the Georgian League.

But when Fergusson's attempted shot was handled, the striker took the resulting penalty himself and scored comfortably to maintain City's unbeaten record on tour.

They were in Georgia for eight days and played three matches beating Napereuli and Mesxti before earning this draw in a tough test against Shevardeni, a name which in English means "Eagles".

More than a thousand spectators turned up to watch what most of them felt would be a comfortable win for the side from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

For Shevardeni are full time professionals and they finished ninth in the Georgian League last season. And with the manager of their national team watching Shevardeni players wanted to put on a show.

They also included Levan Kipiani, the nineteen year old son of former Soviet Union international David Kipiani, who is now the Iberia Tbilisi team coach.

But Shevardeni were shocked by Gloucester City as skipper Brian Hughes crashed a shot against a post with thirteen minutes gone.

And then Gloucester City took the lead.

Jason Eaton powered a shot goalwards from close range and a defender punched it away. Jeff Meacham stepped up to tuck away the spot kick.

During that first half goalkeeper Len Bond had been in superb form, but he found himself with a whole new set of teammates in the second period.

For manager Brian Godfrey had made ten substitutions at half time as Gloucester's first half contingent were found to be struggling badly after forty-five minutes in heat measured at more than one hundred degrees.

And in that second half City's discipline started to slip just a little and they were punished by a fast and sharp Shevardeni side.

Two goals in two minutes put the hosts ahead.

Their first goal came from twenty-nine year old striker Give Kobelashvilli.

When Bond could only save a fierce, low drive, the talnted Kobelashvilli was left with the easist of chances which he tucked away comfortably.

And two minutes later there was more trouble for City when substitute Pertia was not picked up as he ran into the penalty area from a long way out and headed in from a short cross.

At 1-2 ahead Shevardeni looked in control, but it was then that the Gloucester City team spirit shone through.

The City players gritted their teeth and battled back in determined style.

With Shevardeni becoming more and more niggled at their failure to take complete control, City began to press forward themselves.

And they were rewarded when Fergusson's effort was handled and the striker stepped up to convert the penalty.

The result was a 2-2 draw and it completed an unbeaten tour for Gloucester City.

The pity was that so many players were booked in what was often a bad tempered match.

Much of the blame must lay with the home team, who played more up to their reputation in Georgia as a team of play-actors than one who are more interested in trying to win what could have been an excellent match.

And Shevardeni's attitude was a real pity for they looked a side capable of a lot of good football if they had a more positive outlook.

In all Shevardeni had three players booked and City two.

And it was home captain Minashili Amirani who tore off his armband in frustration after being booked for abuse to the referee - and he threw it at City defender Geoff Hancocks as he stormed off the pitch in apparent disgust.

But, while Amirani was obviously incensed over something, his departure after seventy-seven minutes was a mionr factor.

Gloucester can look back on their tour with pride.

Shevardeni : G Dolidze, G Eliashilli, T Samkhardze, L Nadarcishilli, N Tartakashilli, K Kopaleishvilli, Shalambezidge, L Kipiani, G Kobelashilli, A Minashilli (capt), Bakhtadze

Gloucester City : L Bond, R Baverstock, J Meacham, D Dawkins, J Sherwood, L Rogers, S Abbley, B Hughes, J Freegard, J Eaton, B Hackett. (h/t subs) M Madge, W Noble, G Hancocks, M Malpas, R Chandler, S Talboys, D Webb, C Smith, S Penny, S Fergusson

Referee : Elguja Silagava

Man of the match : Goalkeeper Len Bond takes the vote for another fine display. Defenders Lee Rogers and Jeff Sherwood both did well in the first half and full back Mark Madge continued his good form but it was Bond who stood out.

All images and text taken from Rob Kujawa's Gloucester Citizen and Pink 'Un archive

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Page last updated : 7th January 2009

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