Tuesday, 22 February 2011

5. Andover New Street FC

Andover New Street and their noisy neighbours.
 I've been taking it easy so far. I hadn't previously gone anywhere outside of the M27 corridor, and as I've lived in this area all my life, I know the towns along the Solent coastal strip as well as I know my cats' nipples - they might be hidden away, but I know where they are to tickle them when they roll over. Or something (note to self...think of a better analogy and replace this nonsense asap).

So, for my latest trip, I travelled to a sports complex half a mile to the north of Andover to watch two teams that I knew absolutely nothing about. It was time to leave my comfort zone and start learning. You see, I've never been to Andover - it's always the town that I pass by on the way to somewhere else. I have no friends or family there; I've never had to work there.

Do you know one of the best things about being a football fan? It's the opportunity to go to places that you would never otherwise visit. I've been to Stockport and Sunderland following Pompey - two towns that don't appear on any tourist map, and neither are towns that I would go to for any other reason than to watch football. Andover isn't the only town in my home county that I've never been to - there are others. But today was all about the thrill of the new (and hopefully enjoying a good game of football, of course).

The thrill of the new.
Andover New Street FC (4) 4 v 3 (2) Tadley Calleva FC
Saturday 19th February 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League First Division
Attendance: 30-40
Entrance price: £4
Club shop: No
National grid reference: SU3448 / SU3548
Subbuteo colours: 105 v 139 (the bottom row - Lyon)

Lonely corner flag at Andover New Street.
 What do people do in Andover? I don't know for sure, but I can guess: like anywhere else, they watch telly, they drink beer, they laugh, they cry, they feel happy or frustrated, they eat chips and curry, chocolate and celery. They'll be like any other disparate group of people. All different, but all essentially the same - flesh and blood and bones with thoughts and feelings.

As it happens, I didn't actually stop in Andover today, as New Street's ground is outside of the town. I got lost on the way there, and I got lost on Andover's ring road on the way back, but never mind...

You know, people work so hard to keep their clubs going - I could say this about any of the clubs that I visit. You suspect that so many owners of the big clubs are either in it for the publicity, or as a front for legitimising their dodgy business lives (or both). I'm not saying that football lower down the pecking order is more pure or noble or anything like that, but you know that the smaller clubs are run by people who love the game. And that's enough.

The volunteers at Andover New Street are certainly hard-working. They run a large number of teams for different age groups. This is obviously a club run by the local community, for the local community, and if the men's first team doesn't have a good season, it doesn't matter too much (which is just as well, as they usually struggle to reach halfway in this league).

The ground is next to the noisy neighbours of Andover Rugby Club, and an archery club (the ancient art of archery being almost as old as the Roman centurions on Tadley Calleva's crest). I visited a nearby cemetery too before the match, which exuded a colourful sadness in the sweet-smelling dampness of the early Spring air.

There was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere about the club. The players joked about New Street's keeper's pink jersey as they lined up to trot on to the pitch. Don't get me wrong - both teams wanted to win this match - it was certainly competitive, but there was no nasty undercurrent between these two near-neighbours.

As for the game itself, I struck lucky again, just as I had at Romsey two weeks previously, and ended up seeing the highest-scoring game in the league this weekend. One problem with these goalfeasts is that I can't remember all the action in detail (I don't stand there taking notes), so for a full match report with scorers, head this way. There is also an action photo gallery here. (Incidentally, the fact that someone connected with the club has had the time and inclination to regularly update the club website is much appreciated. The player profiles make interesting reading too - monkeys seem to be remarkably popular at New Street!).

Up steps New Street's David Beckham...
 Where was I? The goals that I can remember...

Goal number 1 (to New Street after 15 minutes) came direct from a Beckham-esque free-kick into the top corner. Tadley's keeper was stranded like a halibut out of water. The free-kick had been given for the only nasty tackle in the whole game - the kind of two-footed, studs-up effort that Match of the Day replay in almost pornographic detail over and over again from fourteen different angles: the sort of tackle that makes Alan Shearer's forehead veins bulge as he tuts with semi-literate rage. It so happens that the New Street player on the receiving end of the lunge wasn't injured, so will have been able to carry on earning money for himself and his dependents this week. No sending-off. New Street were not happy, but they were disciplined enough not to let it get to them for too long.

Goal 2 followed almost immediately, and went to New Street's Isaac Sedu. Now, New Street's emblem is the swift, which just so happens to be one of the fastest birds in the world. It seemed as though Isaac had a swift strapped to each boot as he (almost) literally flew past Tadley's rather more static birds in defence. When he came down to earth, he let rip with an unstoppable netbreaker from the edge of the box. Goal of the match.

The ref has a word with a New Street player in front of the Buildbase Stand.
 For Goal 3, I was distracted by another bird - a robin in the trees behind me - and missed the ref giving a penalty to Tadley. Luckily, one of New Street's players yelled over to the dugouts informing them that "to be fair, he was all over him", which is as near to a replay as we were going to get. The penalty was slotted in under the dive of New Street's pink (and now brown with mud)-shirted keeper (who I thought resembled the actor David Hasselhoff, just a little). 2-1.

The goals kept on coming...2-2, 3-2, 4-2 to the home team at half-time. A breathtaking first 45 minutes. If I had been taking notes, I suspect I would have needed more than one pencil.

During the interval, I wandered around the ground, and came across something you don't see every day...

New Street's transport for away fixtures?
 ...a ten-seater bike!

The second half was almost as good as the first, except this time, instead of goals, there were terrific saves at either end, the woodwork was rattled twice, and both sides scored disallowed goals. Just one more goal stood, and that went to Tadley with twenty minutes remaining. A nerve-wrenching final quarter of the game for the home team, but they just about held on for the three points to banish any relegation worries that they might have had.

So, a throbbing, thrilling, action-packed derby game at a friendly club. The sun even smiled through the gloom for two minutes for the first time on my travels before being hastily swallowed up again by the over-enthusiastic February clouds.

Oh, and is there an actual road called New Street in Andover? Yes, yes there is. I strongly suspect that the club played there originally before moving to their out-of-town site in the 1960s. Perhaps someone who knows the club better than I do can confirm this?

And I suppose I still haven't been to Andover - merely getting lost on the ring road doesn't really count. I shall remain within the town boundary to see New Street's neighbours Andover FC another time - almost certainly in the Wessex League, as the bookies have stopped taking bets on their relegation from the Southern League this season.

Another look at that extraordinary bike before I sign off:

Another view of the remarkable bike.
Next time: another trip to Hampshire's central belt.


  1. I saw our reserves play they first team here,pre-season a few years ago. A really friendly club.

  2. It was a very friendly club. From the moment I arrived, I was made to feel at home by all the volunteers at the club. I'd love to go back and watch them again another time.