Saturday, 29 January 2011

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.

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