Monday, 11 April 2011

8. Fleet Town FC

Fleet Town F.C. AKA Punk Rock Town.
'Allo, 'allo, 'allo, what's all this then? Fleet Town v Metropolitan Police? A flimsy excuse to print lots of police-related puns, no doubt? Er, well, it's a fair cop, guv - that was my intention when I chose this match. However, after reading one or two other match reports in the lead-up to this game, I soon realised that everyone else usually has the same idea when covering the Met, so I'll try not to be too obvious.

Or will I?

Match number eight, and my first trip to the north-east of the county...
Recommended - a pre-match stroll along the nearby canal towpath.
Fleet Town FC (0) 0 v 2 (1) Metropolitan Police FC
Saturday April 9th 2011.
Ryman Isthmian League Division One South.
Attendance: 249
Entrance price: £8
Club shop: Yes, sells all sorts of Fleet Town memorabilia.
National grid reference: SU8053
Subbuteo colours:163 v 244
At half-time, we were all hot, shaggy dogs.
"So, you're going to Fleet - having lunch at the services, then?" No, no, I went nowhere near Fleet Services, and nor did I want to. This was Football Day - the best day of the week - and I wasn't going to waste time eating a fatty fry-up in a motorway service station. What I did instead was go for a delightful stroll along the Basingstoke Canal before the match, parking at Crookham Village, before dawdling along the towpath at approximately the same pace as the many moorhens. It took around an hour to reach Calthorpe Park, but if I hadn't kept stopping to admire the view and had been in "purposeful stride mode" instead, it would have taken half that time. Recommended on a light, dry day for anyone else thinking of visiting Fleet Town.

My pre-match study of the history of Fleet Town didn't unearth too many quirky facts, other than it seems as though ex-Prime Minister Clement Attlee once played for them. The most famous quote about Attlee was by Winston Churchill, who said that he was "a modest man, with much to be modest about", which is apt, as Fleet have always been a modest club. Only recently have they risen to their current position of respectability at Step 4 of the non-league pyramid. They occupy a mid-table position in the Ryman (Isthmian) League First Division South. They are the only Hampshire club in that league. If the rumours on the Non-League Matters forum are to be believed, they will be leaving to join the Southern League next season - making this the last chance for me to see an Isthmian League game.
The Met always seemed to have more players on the pitch.
Metropolitan Police have been in the Isthmian League for as long as I can remember, without ever threatening to win very much. This season is different, as they are neck-and-neck with Bognor Regis Town at the top of the league. Thus, this match was crucial for their promotion chances, unlike for Fleet, who used the game to try out a few young players.

The Met are funded by a force-wide lottery, and apparently very few of them are actually coppers (although they did used to be a police-only team). They play their home games at [strikethrough]999 Letsby Avenue[/strikethrough] Imber Court in Molesey, SW London.

Spot the ball! The park behind the dugouts was alive with squirrels.
As you can tell from the photos, it was a hot, hot day in Hampshire. Fleet Town's shirts were as blue as the sky - if you were to lie on the ground and a Fleet player were to jump over you, he would have been as invisible against the sky as pale grey gulls are to sea mackerel on a cloudy day. And there were plenty of people lying down on the grass banking on the side opposite the stand - mostly mums who had brought their small boys with them to act as team mascots for the day - sunning themselves whilst the boys raced around the pitch competing in a variety of imaginary Olympic running events.

It was too hot to play football, but the match had to go on. Cruelly, Fleet had to kick uphill in the first half - and boy, there's quite a slope at Calthorpe Park - it must have been like riding up the Mont Ventoux on a particularly hot day in the Tour de France for any half-fit players out there. By the time they reached the goal at the mountain peak, the Fleet players were too tired to shoot effectively. Thus, the Met were able to grind them down, eventually nicking a goal just before half-time, the ball seeming to pick up speed as it careered downhill towards the Fleet goal. Whoosh! 1-0 at the interval.
Blimey! A proper photographer!
Now, the half-time entertainment could have been quite something today. Imagine, the police could have brought their doggy display team with them - leap through those flaming hula-hoops, doggies! And Fleet could have asked the Fleet Air Arm to dismantle a cannon, haul it around the pitch on their shoulders, then reassemble it in front of the stand to an appreciative round of bravos (except, of course, the Fleet Air Arm isn't based in Fleet, but they could have come anyway).

Neither of those things happened. Instead, the entire crowd of 249 flopped down on the grass as one, tongues out, panting like a lethargic pack of shaggy dogs. And we listened to music - not to the Fleet Foxes, thank chuff - nor to any other boring, beard-stroking hippy tripe - nope, we were entertained by HALF-TIME PUNK ROCK!

Punk rock! Ska! Mod classics! Buzzcocks! Desmond Dekker! The Who! Get in there!

And when the punk rock was all over, it was time for the second half...
A rare attack for Fleet Town. Keeper's ball!
Fleet were kicking down the slope after the interval, but it didn't make much difference. The Met always seemed to have more players on the pitch. I wondered if they had arrested a couple of Fleet's team and held them in custody whilst the match was on (am I the only person who used to think that when someone was described as being held in custody, that they were being kept in a large vat of custard? It took me years to work out the real meaning). Or had a new law been passed which let them play with thirteen men? I don't know.

The second goal came from a Rory Delap-style throw-in. The long throw of the law, if you like, rather than the long arm of the law. Throw, scramble, panic, scuff, goal - all very Stoke City, and all over with half an hour still to play.

So, a hot day in a neat stadium, followed by a dawdle back to the car along the canal towpath.

I wanted to finish off with a rhyming couplet - some appropriate words to describe Fleet - but it's not very punk.

Oh, I'll do it anyway:

"If it's tidy and neat, it must be Fleet".

If I could have thought of an appropriate rhyme for pleasant (something other than pheasant), I could have had a classic poem to sign off with...

Incidentally, the photos taken by "the proper photographer" can be found here!

Next time: My final game of the season.

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