Sunday, 30 January 2011

3. Fareham Town FC

I hope The Darras is ashamed of this useless, illegible graffiti.
Hop number three was my first midweek match. Fareham Town versus Romsey Town on a freezing January Wednesday evening. Many layers of clothing were worn, plus a stylish beanie hat, but still the winter cold managed to seep through to my very innermost innards. Now I know what an ice lolly must feel like. Surely it won't get any colder than this on my travels?

I took several photos, but as it was so dark, and my camera being pretty basic, most of them turned out more blurry than a reunion show by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Dave Rowntree and Alex James singing the eponymous Blur album behind a screen of frosted glass.

Fareham Town FC (0) 1 v 1 (1) Romsey Town FC
Wednesday 26th January 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 60
Entrance price: £6
Club shop: No
National grid reference: SU5705
Subbuteo colours: 14 (but with red socks) v 155

Is it a goal or did the keeper tip it over the bar? The wall behind the covered standing area.

A good screwdriver is a friend for life. Whereas tools that aren't good enough get thrown away and forgotten. So it has been for Fareham Town, the screwdriver that was not quite good enough. The last time I saw them was in 1987, when I was part of a 6,000+ crowd at The Dell for their FA Trophy semi-final against Kidderminster Harriers (the only time I ever went to Southampton's old ground and cheered on the "home" team). Today, they can draw as few as 60 spectators for their Wessex League home games at Cams Alders. Most residents of the town probably don't even know where the ground is (it's in the middle of an area of playing fields, behind an industrial estate). The days of being one of the sharpest tools in the non-league toolbox seem hopelessly distant now.

Things might change soon. The people who run the club want them to play at the higher level of the Southern League once more. This should bring them more publicity, and with it more paying customers.If they finish in the top two of the Wessex League, their ground is almost certainly good enough to allow them to be promoted, given a couple of minor tweaks. However, their chances of promotion this season have faded, much like their patched up salmon pink shirts, which would once have been a proud cherry red before being subjected to the rigours of being washed a hundred times or more.

Cams Alders has an impressive large stand, set quite a way back from the pitch. If you sat there and used your imagination, you could almost believe you were at Wembley - well, the seats are red, and you are a long way from the action - when play is over on the far side of the pitch, it's like watching a game of Subbuteo.

Blurry action at Fareham Town.
Between the stand and the pitch is an expanse of crunchy gravel. Tonight, there are three rather lovely dogs in the stadium - they take it in turns to be taken for walkies around the pitch on their leads. No danger of these shaggy fellas invading the pitch. Good doggies!

Tonight's opponents come from the well-to-do town of Romsey. Dressed all in blue, they played some terrific football, considering the level they're at. At times, I thought I was watching Chelsea at their flowing best. They rang rings around Fareham, and took a deserved lead just before half-time through Simon De'ath, who had evidently been taking lessons from the Weebles (they wobble but they don't fall down, unlike Fareham's defenders, who were about as steady on their feet as the late Norman Wisdom). De'ath slotted home with aplomb from eight yards. If only they could have held on to win, the headlines would have written themselves: "De'ath delivers killer blow", etc...

This was surely not the same Fareham team who had scored an astonishing 14 (FOURTEEN!) goals to record their biggest-ever victory only two days previously against Wymering? They were woeful.

According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Fareham Town have been in existence since 1446, which makes them the world's oldest club by over 400 years. This is unlikely, to say the least. There's a lot of reclaimed land around Portsmouth Harbour. Low-lying Cams Alders may well be built on some of it, which means that Ye Olde Farehamme Towne of 1446 could have been playing under the sea. This led me to speculate what their team must have looked like 565 years ago. For example, was their goalkeeper a fish?

The current goalie bears a striking resemblance to the great Billy MacKenzie, the late Associates singer. I wondered what Billy MacKenzie and Viz's Billy The Fish would look like together, so I made this picture:

Fareham Town goalkeepers present and past.
The gentlemen of Romsey dominated the entire match, but they were in dire need of Billy's boots, as they missed chance after chance after chance. They couldn't seal the game with a second goal, and they paid for their profligacy as Fareham scored an undeserved scrambled equaliser with almost the last kick of the game.

Mid-table Wessex League obscurity for both clubs this season. However, Romsey Town were a joy to watch. I can feel a soft spot developing for them. After all, at the end of my 42 ground visits, there is a vacancy for me to choose a local team to follow - Romsey are the early favourites to capture me after their performance tonight.

Next time: Romsey Town v Lymington Town.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

2. AFC Totton

The covered terrace at AFC Totton. Soon to be a thing of the past.
A second match report which was originally copied from my other, less specialised blog, Pleasure City Avenue. A cold afternoon in Totton. Still, the big consolation here is that there's a fabulous old-fashioned sweet shop a few hundred yards away. The blackcurrant and liquorice humbugs helped to keep the chill out!

The second instalment of Hopping Around Hampshire took me to AFC Totton on Saturday for their top-of-the-table Sotonian derby clash with Sholing FC. West Southampton versus East Southampton, third versus first in the Zamaretto Southern League Division One South And West (is there a longer league name than that anywhere in the world? Probably!). Would West come out best? Or would East take the local bragging rights?

AFC Totton (0) 2 v 1 (1) Sholing FC
Zamaretto Southern League Division One South & West
Saturday 22nd January 2011
Attendance: 384
Entrance: £9
Club shop: Yes, 1 badge bought
National grid reference: SU3613 (the new ground is at SU3415)
Subbuteo colours: 155 v 52

Midfield action.
AFC Totton came into being in 1975, when Totton FC and Totton Athletic merged to form a new club. They could have called themselves anything - Totton Albion, Totton United, Totton Hotspur - anything at all. But they had to choose the prefix AFC. Oh dear. I can feel a bugbear coming on. The first AFC (or at least, the most well-known) were AFC Bournemouth. As they were the first, I can accept that (although I much prefer their previous name of Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic). However, so many clubs have copied them since, such that there are now three columns-worth of AFCs in the small-type index of the Non-League Club Directory 2011. From AFC Aldermaston to AFC Wymington, they're all there. If they wanted to be first alphabetically, they should have called themselves AAA Man & Van Totton, surely?

I digress.

As for Sholing - well, I'll give their potted history when I visit their ground in due course. Suffice to say that they were VT FC last season.

So, this was AFC Totton's third-to-last-ever home game at Testwood Park. Next month, they move to a new ground, half a mile upriver (if you want to know what Testwood Park looks like in more detail, then head over to this blog pronto! Highly recommended). I had been here before, and it had been bloomin' freezing that time - the wind can whip in straight off the adjacent marshes something rotten. Brrrr! This time, I wrapped up warm, the imaginary voice of my nan ringing in my ears as I put my third hand-knitted woolly jumper on. Not so brrr-ing this time! However, if it had have been, the snack hut sold a fine selection of hot drinks, just in case.

I was looking forward to seeing AFC Totton's mascot, whom I shall christen Startled Stag, and if he had turned up, I can assure you I would have taken a photo of him and posted it. This is what he looks like:

Startled Stag

Startled Stag, where were you? Had they locked you up in a cage? Are they feeding you properly? Poor thing. (As an aside, I had a dream before attending this match that not only would Startled Stag turn up, but that the Sholing team would bring their mascots with them - their mascots being a shoal of disco-dancing miniature fish. It didn't happen. Dreams never come true, you know).

The match? Oh yes, the match...played between two close-knit teams, like watching two bands of brothers who would do anything for each other. These two have been neck-and-neck in whichever league they've been in over the last five years, and it showed. There was nothing in it - it was one of those matches that could have gone either way. It just happened to be Totton's day today.

The temporary stand at AFC Totton

The goals? Oh yes, the goals...concertinaed into a small box either side of half-time. Think of the goals as a clown-faced jack-in-the-box springing up suddenly, uncomfortably close to your nose, slapping a custard pie in your face and screaming "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!" three times in quick succession. Quite a surprise, as the rest of the match was mostly forgettable. Lots of crash bang wallop in the middle of the park. Loads of commitment, lots of effort. I can see why both teams are pushing for promotion - either would steamroller most other teams in this league, but they cancelled each other out on this occasion.

Behind the goal at the Marsh End
So, West was indeed best and East was least in this local derby - the last ever to be played at Testwood Park. AFC Totton start their new life at their new ground on February 19th 2011. Good luck to them.

Next: Fareham Town.

1. Eastleigh FC

Eastleigh, home of the Spitfire and some pointy things.
This first hop was originally copied from my other blog, Pleasure City Avenue. I came at it from the perspective of a fan of a "big" team (Pompey), thus the comment about there being enough room to swing a cat at Eastleigh...well, there was, but I've come to realise since that 822 is likely to be one of the highest crowds I shall be in throughout my journeys. There is generally enough room to swing a lion at most grounds lower down the pyramid - I now take this extra space for granted, but it seemed a novelty at this first match. Moreover, re-reading this, I was incredibly biased against Eastleigh. I hope their fans reading this are understanding, as I was there to support H&W, as I lived near their ground as a child (even occasionally playing on the boggy grass that Westleigh Park was eventually built on). Any match I report on involving H&W will inevitably be rose-tinted towards them - I'm always likely to see their opponents as villains. If I see Eastleigh again, I shall be more even-handed.

Hop number one:

Eastleigh FC (1) 4 v 2 (2) Havant & Waterlooville
Blue Square Conference South
Monday 3rd January 2011
Attendance: 822
Entrance: £10
Club shop: Yes, 2 badges bought
National grid reference: SU4417
Subbuteo colours: 17 v 47

Arriving at the Solent Satellite Town Derby half an hour before kick-off, I was wondering if there would be an undercurrent of aggressive tension between these two Conference South rivals, as there would undoubtedly be at a match between these two clubs' more famous near-neighbours. I needn't have fretted. Eastleigh's Silverlake Stadium is most definitely more akin to the Moon in terms of atmosphere than its more Earth-like neighbour, Southampton, just three miles to the south. The distance might as well be three light years, such is the colossal difference between the two.

So, was this a proper non-league match?

Tannoy feedback? Check.

Enough room to swing a frozen cat? Check.

Moth-eaten mascot? Check.

The poor doggy mascot was the very definition of "hangdog", his expression a mixture of sadness and nonplussedness as he seemed to ponder his very existence, ignored by the two sides as they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries before the start of the match: Eastleigh, bedecked in the current colours of Oldham Athletic; Havant & Waterlooville (The Hawks) playing in Havant Town's old kit of yellow and blue (imagine number 17 v number 47 in a 1970s Subbuteo catalogue).

Eastleigh are a relatively new phenomenon, having been known as Swaythling Athletic or just plain old Swaythling up until 1980; The Hawks are here as a result of the financially-forced merger of local rivals Havant Town and Waterlooville in 1998. Their finest moment came three years ago, when they led twice at Anfield in the fourth round of the FA Cup, before Liverpool hit back to win 5-2.

More prosaic business today. However, the result was very nearly the same.

Approximately half of the Eastleigh team used to play for the Hawks (or "Avantlooville", as their fans call them), and this may have been behind the motivation for a number of the petty fouls that caused the first half hour to feel so disjointed. Beastly Eastleigh spent more time trying to get their opponents booked than they did trying to play football. Disappointing, and not something that endeared them to me.

They did break through eventually to score the first goal, but not really through their own endeavours. It went something like this: sloppy back-pass...number 9 latches on...rounds helpless keeper...slams ball into roof of net. 1-0.

This action woke up Eastleigh's Barmy Army (whom I shall now christen The Balmy Badgers, due to their lack of noise - I mean, badgers are mute, aren't they?). Indeed, the only times the home crowd ever made any noise was when their team scored - goal goes in, acting like a "hip hip" - home fans react with a mildly enthusiastic "hooray", before going back to their normal business of snuffling around for beetles (or whatever it is that badgers eat).

Avantlooville's equaliser arrived fairly quickly - a sliced chip into the far top corner from a narrow angle by their impressive number 4, Leon Cashman. This was a sliced chip, as opposed to a cheesy chip, which a small boy near me wanted for his dinner after the match - the two are not to be confused. 1-1.

By far the noisier set of fans were the 200-strong Hawks contingent. One of their many former players - Luke Byles - caused their collective bile to rise with some disgraceful play-acting, rolling around on the grass, holding his face after a harmless tangle with Avantlooville's "Turkish Delight", Muzzy Tiryaki. Byles was called a cheat and - much worse - a banker (I think) by the away fans for the rest of the match - and (author puts on his angry hat) rightly so.

Former backpacker Byles had riled Turkish Delight (and when I say "Turkish Delight", Muzzy is not the usual delicate rose flavour of the well-known, he is the much rarer and more effective - on the football pitch, at least - beef flavoured Turkish Delight...a rampaging, snorting ox of a man). So riled was he, that he put Avantlooville 2-1 up just before half-time with a close-range rasper. Fist-pumping celebrations ensued. "Take that Benny Hill, Heinz Burt, Jane Pow, and any other minor celebrities that Eastleigh has ever produced!" screamed the travelling support.

Half-time came and went. I lost all sensation in my feet, but never mind - the match was enjoyable.

During the second half, the Aville (the shortened version of the shortened version of their full name) fans chanted "Gimme a pork...Pork! Gimme a lamb...Lamb!" as if they were requesting a wad of meaty chops from the refreshments portakabin.

Nothing much happened on the pitch until, with 15 minutes remaining, Eastleigh got their slightly undeserved equaliser. It went something like this: soft free-kick...lofted in...Joe Jordan's son...lanky centre-half...unmarked...powers header into bulging net. 2-2.

After this, the Spitfires actually started to spit something like real fire for the first time in the match, putting H&W under real pressure. Even so, the Hawks may have won the game, but for the linesman's eagle eyes spotting an offside. But it was not to be for them, as Eastleigh scored twice in injury time to win the Solent Satellite Town Derby 4-2.

Goal 3...corner...header...easy-peasy. 3-2.

Goal 4...defender hacks down winger - twice - in box...penalty...last kick of game...slotted in with ease by ex-Spurs, Millwall, and yep, Avantlooville forward Jamie Slabber. 4-2.

Overhearing Eastleigh's stewards, I heard that Saints were winning 3-1; the Hawks fans were chatting about Pompey's defeat to Hull on the way out.

"...if Brighton lose and Saints win..." Eastleigh's Balmy Badgers almost visible behind the far goal.
So, the first Hop Around Hampshire produced a cracking game of football. Most enjoyable. Hard luck on Avantlooville - a draw would have been a fair result, but they'll win a similar match another time.

Next up: AFC Totton.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The 42 FCs (Hampshire)

Welcome to Totton.

The English league pyramid's apex (the pointy bit at the top) is the FA Premiership. From there, working downwards, come the three divisions of the Football League (Championship, League One and League Two). If you like, you can call them Steps 1-4. After these divisions, what is known as "non-league" begins. There is one national division, known as the Conference (Step 5), then regionalisation comes into being, with Conference North and South at Step 6. These two leagues have their own even more geographically precise feeder leagues, and so it goes on down the leagues, each division becoming more and more compacted into smaller and smaller areas.

My aim, over the next three years or so, is to watch a match at every ground in Hampshire at every level from Step 10 upwards. What follows is a list of all the clubs that are currently involved in my plan, with links to their respective leagues' fixture lists. This is correct for the 2010-11 season - the list is likely to change as clubs drop out or are promoted from even lower leagues.

Fixtures for the top four divisions can be found via any half-decent British newspaper's sports pages.

Step 1. Premiership

2. Championship

3. League One

4. League Two
Aldershot Town

5. Conference

6. Conference South
Basingstoke Town
Havant & Waterlooville

7. Southern League Premier Division

8. Southern League Division One South & West
Gosport Borough
AFC Totton
8. Isthmian League First Division South
Fleet Town

9. Wessex League Premier Division
Alresford Town
Alton Town
Blackfield & Langley
Fareham Town
AFC Fawley
Hamble ASSC
Hayling United
Lymington Town
New Milton Town
Romsey Town
Totton & Eling
Winchester City
9. Combined Counties Premier Division

10. Wessex League First Division
Andover New Street
Fleet Spurs
Hythe & Dibden
Petersfield Town
AFC Portchester
Ringwood Town
Tadley Calleva
US Portsmouth
Whitchurch United
10. Combined Counties First Division
Farnborough North End
Hartley Wintney

Below these leagues are the county leagues and, well, I have to stop somewhere, so I'll give them a miss for the time being.

Next - the first match report!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

It's Going To Happen!

I need more badges!
Welcome to Hopping Around Hampshire!

Background: I'm a Pompey fan. Scratch that, I'm a Pompey nut, or at least, I have been for a long time. I've been attending matches at Fratton Park since the age of five. However, during their stay in the Premiership, something changed. I became more and more disengaged. Whether it was the lack of identification with the mercenary millionaires that represented the club on and off the field of play; whether it was the constant moving of kick-off times by TV, meaning I had to reorganise my life around Sky TV schedules over and over again; whether it was the - yes, whisper it - boring, predictable football in the Premiership (six 0-0 draws in seven home matches at one point - 0-0 draws usually played between two teams of enormous uncaring automatons); whether it was the sheer unaffordability (season tickets at £600 for only 19 matches!)...I don't know. It was a mixture of all of the above, I suspect.

To cut a long story short, I stopped going to Fratton Park. And most weeks, I didn't miss it.

However, lately, the urge to return to football has come back. Saturday afternoons sat in front of Ceefax were getting a little dull. So, over Christmas 2010, I decided to go to a match. Not Pompey this time, but in the town where I grew up, Havant. As it happens, the match I went to (Havant & Waterlooville v Dorchester Town) was called off. But as I sat in the car park at Westleigh Park, watching all the people coming and going in the drizzle, I hatched a plan...

The plan was to visit all the senior football grounds in Hampshire, taking in a match at each (by "senior", I mean every club at Wessex League level and above). Hence, the birth of this blog. This will be a record of all my trips to each of these grounds over the next few years (and yes, I'd love to "do" the whole lot in one season, but I do have other commitments!). I shall post match reports, photos and other details. I hope that others find it (a) mildly diverting or (b) useful for planning their own trips to these grounds.

There are currently 42 clubs in Hampshire at Wessex League level and above. I shall list them all in my second post, and then the match reports will begin!