Monday, 28 March 2011

7. Brockenhurst FC

Night-time in Brockenhurst. Mmmm, IPA!
I was young and stupid once. Hard to believe, I know, but I was. It wasn't my fault - it was the people I hung around with - bad influences, one and all. One of the things we did was celebrate Brusher's Day on July 1st every year. "What was that all about then?" I hear you say...

Well, Brusher Mills was the celebrated snake catcher of the New Forest in the latter half of the 19th century. He lived on his own in a cone-shaped hut in the forest, catching snakes with his snake tongs and selling them to scientists to help cure gout and suchlike. He enjoyed his bread and cheese and a pint at The Railway Inn at Brockenhurst (which was the main reason we celebrated him - he was just like us - except he caught snakes!). After his hut was burned down by the authorities (boo!), his health deteriated, and he died in the outhouses of what was to become The Snakecatcher (named in his honour) after enjoying one last pint and a pickle, on July 1st 1905.

My group of ne'er-do-wells did get a little drunk on Brusher's Day. One year, we went to visit his grave at midnight to recite Brusher's Prayer ("Our Brusher, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy snake staff..."). One of our number was so overcome with emotion that he lay down beside the great man's grave and fell asleep. Young and stupid indeed!

The fact that Brockenhurst were playing on a Friday evening was the perfect excuse to go back to the village and enjoy a pint or two at The Snakecatcher.

Oh yes...and to watch a game of football!
My hero, Brusher Mills.
Brockenhurst FC (0) 0 v 5 (2) Bournemouth FC
Friday 25th March 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 70
Entrance price: £6, including good quality programme.
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SU2902 / SU3002
Subbuteo colours: 51 v 41
A French badger in bovver boots! Found at the back of the stand. Possibly used to stand outside a French restaurant in the village.
This was supposed to be a special occasion - it wasn't as special as Brusher's Day, granted, but it was the next best thing - the 25th anniversary match of the Wessex League, played between the only two ever-presents, Brockenhurst and Bournemouth Poppies. Brockenhurst (or The Badgers, as they are known locally) have had many a scrape with relegation over the years. This season looks as though it might be a scrape too far, as they are second-bottom with only a handful of games to go. And their form isn't good. They went into this match on the back of a 6-1 home defeat on Tuesday night. Tonight's programme editor was not impressed:

"...Without being rude, we were not facing Messi and co at the Nou Camp, but Laverstock & Ford. We endured forty minutes of average fare, followed by fifty minutes of utter rubbish..." Ouch!

Unfortunately, it was to be another difficult evening for The Badgers.

Brockenhurst's frog-eyed tractor. He looks like a character from Bob The Builder.
Opponents Bournemouth FC, or Bournemouth Poppies, were the oldest* club on Hampshire's mainland for 99 years up until 1974, when they were shifted into Dorset by local government restructuring (along with AFC Bournemouth, Christchurch, possibly Verwood Town. Hants also lost all of the Isle of Wight clubs. Bizarrely, New Milton was not annexed, despite it being very much a part of the Bournemouth/Poole conurbation). Apparently, many of Bournemouth's older residents still believe the town to be a part of Hampshire - indeed, the Hampshire Senior Cup Final is still regularly played at AFC Bournemouth's ground. Well, they were in Hampshire from the Domesday Book up until 1974, which is a very long time.

* I believe the oldest Hampshire club may now be Fordingbridge Turks, but this may not be the case. Brading Town on the Isle of Wight are four years older than the Poppies, and were thus the oldest club before the boundary moves.
Poppies take a corner under the Brockenhurst floodlights.
Before I start the actual match report, I just have to mention the hopelessness of taking a decent action shot at an evening match with a basic snappy camera, thus the inclusion of the two treated shots either side of this paragraph. The one above is supposed to be a tribute to Echo & The Bunnymen's Crocodiles album cover.

The photo below is surely proof of the existence of ghosts - that cannot possibly be Bournemouth's keeper taking a goal-kick? Can it?
Poppies' ghostly gazelle-like keeper at Brockenhurst.
So, it was Badgers v Poppies tonight. It started off as an even contest, but before long, the Poppies began to dominate.They were 10% stronger, 10% quicker, with 10% more mad skillz. Brockenhurst weren't as bad as their programme editor suggested, but they were obviously the weaker team.

It really was men against boys, or less clichéed perhaps, and in honour of Brusher, wild deadly cobras versus docile pet corn snakes. It took a while, but when the scales tipped towards the Poppies and the goals started, they arrived with the regularity and precision of the atomic clock.

Goal 1...a Poppies forward slithered through the Badgers' defence and cold-bloodedly slotted the ball beneath the advancing keeper.

Goal 2...a hissing header which strangled the life out of the Badgers.

Half-time arrived. The Poppies had been just like a hungry anaconda hiding beneath a gigantic lily pad in a South American marsh, waiting for a thirsty coypu to come trotting along for a drink. In other words, the result was inevitable. Poor old coypu.
Brockenhurst's impressive stand.
Talking of thirsty coypus, the clubhouse bar was the place to be at half-time for a second pint of brown beer which tasted of ginger and chillies. I liked it, but my companion had adder nuff after the pre-match thirst-quencher and had a Guinness instead.

What with the pre-match beers and the half-time gingery tipple, the second half is as blurry in my memory as my action photos, so remembering the Poppies' three second-half goals in detail is beyond me. However, there is a proper match report here. I do remember one unstoppable venomous strike, and I do know that the Poppies' impressive number 9, Matt Kemble, scored a hat-trick. You're probably sick of all the dreadful snakey puns and analogies by now though...

5-0 to the Poppies. we got a thumbs-up from one of their players as they left the pitch. I took several photos of the old tractor in the far corner of the ground, then it was time for a couple more pints in The Snakecatcher before catching the train home.
A Poppies player is giving the thumbs-up as the players troop off the pitch.
So, did we go and visit Brusher's grave at midnight? No, not this time. Not now that I'm old and sensible! There's a time for being young and stupid, and that's when you're young.

Rest in peace Brusher, and fangs for the memories.

Next time: off to the north-east of the county...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Turn right just before the squirrel...

The Stockbridge Squirrel
Since watching the Stockbridge v Petersfield Town match, Petersfield have gone on to score twelve goals in two games, including a 7-3 victory at Amesbury! If you'd asked me if that was possible after the Stockbridge match, I would have laughed. But I suppose that's football!

Anyway, I mentioned to someone that I had taken a photo of the squirrel that adorns the wall of the former antiques shop opposite the entrance to the lane which leads up to Stockbridge Recreation Ground, and they said that they would like to see it, so here it is! The excuse that I have found to post it here is to assist anyone visiting Stockbridge FC with detailed directions once they reach the village, as the football ground is hidden away somewhat.

Okay, so assuming that you are coming by road from the north, east or south, you will reach a roundabout at the edge of the village. Head west towards the village, but when you see the squirrel (almost immediately), turn right up a narrow lane. You should see the sign pictured below:

The Recreation Ground entrance is close to the roundabout.
Next week there will be another match report, followed by two others this season. I think I then have enough Hampshire football-related material to post at least once a week during the summer, until it all starts again in a few months!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

6. Stockbridge FC

A nice cup of tea at Stockbridge FC.
Trip number six was to the attractive village of Stockbridge which, with a population of around 550, is probably the smallest place I shall be going to (Bashley and Eversley are both minuscule, but they are on the outskirts of conurbations - Stockbridge is a self-contained village). This would be a great place for the TV programme Cash In the Attic, as I suspect there is more treasure in the average attic in Stockbridge than in the whole of my Southampton street. Compared to the larger towns and cities of Hampshire, the village seems to be riding out the recession rather well. However, the football club are struggling.

Looking at the league tables, it seemed to me that of all the clubs in Hampshire, Stockbridge were the most likely to be relegated to the county leagues this season - hence, I made sure I came here sooner rather than later, just in case. It just so happens that they are in real danger of being relegated, but not for the usual reason of being not very good...

Pre-match handshakes.
Stockbridge FC (1) 1 v 1 (0) Petersfield Town FC
Saturday 12th March 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League First Division
Attendance: 20-30
Entrance price: £4
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SU3535
Subbuteo colours: 41 v 179

The new stand at Stockbridge. Handy when it rains.
For anybody that follows a Football League team, ground grading is something you might be vaguely aware of. You might remember that the likes of Kidderminster Harriers and Stevenage Borough were both denied promotion to the Football League because of it - was it because their stadiums weren't big enough? Well, it doesn't matter, ground grading will never bother my club - it's just something that stops parks teams from rising up through the leagues without investing in a 10,000-seater stadium, isn't it?

Well, yes and no. It would stop Stockbridge from ever becoming a Football League team, for sure, but you might imagine that since they are already in the Wessex League, their facilities would be good enough for that league. You would be wrong, for despite having already spent thousands of pounds on upgrading their recreation ground facilities, they are in grave danger of being thrown out of the Wessex League at the end of this season because their changing rooms don't meet the required standards set by the FA for a club playing at Step 6 of the pyramid. They have built a small new stand in which up to 50 spectators can huddle together when it rains; they have installed floodlights of an adequate standard; they have railings around the ground for the weary spectator to lean on, they have laid hard standing around three-quarters of the ground, so that our shoes don't get muddy.

The problem is with the changing rooms - they need another £10,000 to extend them. They were built in the 1970s, when teams had only one substitute, but in these days of multiple subs, they are now too small. Standing outside, they do look as though they would have to be just like Dr Who's Tardis inside to fit everyone in, but still, it does seem a little unfair to ask them to spend so much money when they must only make around £100 at the turnstiles on a matchday - before expenses. But I suppose rules is rules, and they have to abide by them.

A close shave as the Robins narrowly fail to score.
Stockbridge is an old and proud club. Astonishingly, they have been in existence since 1894...and NEVER been relegated! So this season could be historical for them, for all the wrong reasons. According to their excellent and well-maintained website, half the village used to turn out to wave the team off when they set off on away trips. They would sing the Red Red Robins song as they drove along the country roads. It all sounds rather jolly.

They have had many famous visitors through the years: Jackie Charlton, Dickie Davies, various Saints players; they've had a helicopter landing on their pitch...all of which is chronicled on the website. I've enjoyed leafing through its electronic pages over the last week or so.

Stockbridge Recreation Ground is overlooked by leafy Stockbridge Down.
The match itself was a little scrappy. It was scrappier than Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy Doo attempting to build a dustbin lorry out of scrap on Scrapyard Challenge. Both teams managed to get their machines working okay for short periods, before they spluttered and broke down again. There were long periods where both sides seemed to be putting their feet up and scoffing a few Scooby Snacks, with the occasional "Whoah! Shaggy!" moment when the ball broke loose in either area.

The two goals were identical, as if the match really was a cartoon and the animators were trying to save money by reusing the same scene. Stockbridge's goal came at 3.09; Petersfield's at 4.09. Both were scored at the same end, both slotted low past the keeper from the edge of the area into the same corner, both by players running into the inside-right channel. The only difference was that the animators had changed the colour of the scorer's shirt for the second goal.

No ball games in the goalmouth. By Order!
With Stockbridge's pitch being on a recreation ground, open to the public, during the second half there appeared a succession of families arriving to play in the playground by the changing rooms. And I have to say that I'm well used to seeing referees that are younger than me now, but this one wouldn't have looked out of place hanging from the child's climbing frame with the other nippers. He did okay though - Petersfield's coach didn't necessarily agree, but reffing a game well isn't easy at any level. His decisions didn't affect the result of the game at all.

The aerating roller at the back resembles Sonic the Hedgehog!
What else? Well, you get a really good cup of tea at Stockbridge, and in a proper mug too! You might even get the Groovy Chick mug like I did! There's water rails in the nearby marshes; there's a squirrel painted on the wall of a building opposite the entrance to the ground; and there's a fine selection of rollers dotted around the perimeter of the pitch, and I know you like that sort of thing, don't you? All told, a fine afternoon spent in the Hampshire countryside.

Next time: more Wessex League action!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Fareham Town from the Air

Gathering around the centre circle at Fareham Town.
Planning the route to a new ground is pretty easy these days. There are maps everywhere - not only magnificent Ordnance Survey paper maps (every home should have a full set of 204 Landrangers - the ones with the pink covers) - but the internet is positively bursting with mapping and aerial photography.

Both Google and Microsoft provide free satellite photos. They're blurry, but good enough for the purpose they serve. Then there's Google Street View, which is great for planning the last few hundred yards to any ground you wish to visit - memorise the landmarks, spot the nearest chippie, etc.

My personal favourite though is Microsoft's Bing Maps, and particularly, the so-called Bird's Eye view. I just love looking at football grounds from the air, and the oblique photography used in Bird's Eye is very useful. For example, I was considering a trip to Cove FC's Squirrels Lane ground. Whereas Street View stops before the car park (but you do get a tantalising glimpse of floodlights behind the semis!), Bird's Eye shows the ground in its wholeness - from four different angles, no less.

Now, if I could work out a way of linking directly to a football ground on Bird's Eye, I would...but I can't, so instead I've taken a screenshot of Fareham Town's ground to illustrate its splendour. This is particularly good, because there was actually a match going on when the plane flew overhead! Fareham play in red, the opposition look as though they are in blue. The curious thing is, that there are no spectators in the ground. Why? Even a reserve match would have a few people dotted around the rails! I can't work that out at all.

Anyway, you can see how far back Fareham's stand is from the pitch in this photo. I recently saw a picture of a match at Fareham in the 1980s, and the stand abutted the pitch in those days. Did they move the pitch in order to fit the new changing rooms in? Again, I don't know the answer, but it looks likely judging from the changing rooms' current position.

So, finding Bird's Eye on Bing Maps...go to the right where it says London Street Map. Click on this, and a dropdown menu will appear. Bird's Eye is at the bottom, hidden away, unadvertised elsewhere. Let me know if you see any matches happening elsewhere - and if anyone has a theory concerning the lack of spectators at the illustrated match (a pre-season practice game, maybe?), let me know in the comments below.

*Edit* Having looked at Fareham's ground again from the other three angles, I have spotted a few spectators along the rails on the stand side - not many though. Perhaps they were all having a pre-match drink in the V Club (the bar under the stand) in the illustrated photo?