Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Interlude: New Wessex League Ground for Team Solent

The new sports complex for Solent University on the edge of Southampton.
Of all the posts I've written since I started this blog, the most-viewed has been the one entitled "Interlude: Two New Grounds in Totton" (indeed, anything with "Totton" in the title has proven remarkably popular). However, the two Totton stadia are no longer the newest in Hampshire, as the students of Solent University now have a brand new sports complex near the M271 in Southampton. Newly-promoted Team Solent will be playing there in the near-future. Their first scheduled home Wessex League fixture is next Saturday, October 8th, versus Andover New Street. There is no confirmation yet that the match will be played at the new ground, although looking at it from beyond the boundary last week, it looked as good as complete.

The photo above shows the egg-chasers' pitch of Millbrook Rugby Club in the foreground, with the new complex (which was out of bounds last week due to ongoing building work) just beyond. There's no sign from the outside of any seats or covered standing, although there ought to be if it's to meet Wessex League ground-grading criteria. The changing rooms look big enough, and floodlights can be seen behind them, where the football pitch must be. There are various other sports pitches within the complex, which presumably will get plenty of use from the University's clubs.

*Edit* The first game at the new ground should be on November 19th against US Portsmouth. The match versus Andover New Street will be at Eastleigh.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

12. Hartley Wintney FC

A hart, a Hampshire rose and some recycling bins at Hartley Wintney FC.
The magic of the FA Cup, part three. Two matches seen in the early rounds so far, and both produced surprise results. However, they were only small shocks, measuring only a magnum on the champagne bottle scale. AFC Portchester and Moneyfields both beat clubs from one step higher in the pyramid than themselves - the equivalent of Pompey or Saints beating West Bromwich Albion or Fulham - good results, but not totally unexpected. Saturday's match was different. Different in that there would be a three step differential between the competing clubs - this would be more like Aldershot Town versus Everton - a home win for Hartley Wintney against their Southern League opponents would be the nebuchadnezzar of all shocks.

Could The Row trash The Bash? Could they go further in the cup than they ever had done before? It was time to find out...

Come and support your local team on its historic cup run! An A4 notice pinned to a tree in Hartley Wintney village.
Hartley Wintney FC (0) 1 v (0) 0 Bashley FC
FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round
Saturday 17th September 2011
Attendance: 155
Entrance: £5
Programme: £1 (Outstanding. The best I've seen at a step 6 club by a country mile. Original content and imagination. Copy/pasting from the league website at a minimum. I can imagine the players enjoy reading this, thus it could actually help to create and maintain team spirit. The editors obviously like both making this programme and keeping their splendid website up-to-date. PDF copies of several of their programmes can be seen here)
Club shop: No, but enamel badges for sale at £3 each behind the bar.
Colours: Orange / black / orange v White / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7656

Thunder and lightning, very very frightening (lightning not shown in this photo).
I travelled to Hartley Wintney by train, hopping off at Winchfield and walking the final mile or two (it takes about half an hour to reach the ground from the station). I was entertained on the train journey by a bickering couple in the seats opposite me. A pink-haired girl, rejected by the producers of Snog Marry Avoid as being too over-the-top, was adamant that her boyfriend couldn't do or say anything right for the entire ride. I predict that her balding buddy in his Dreadzone t-shirt could well be back on the singles market very shortly. He should have jumped off the train at Winchfield and come with me.

The hanging baskets on the patio looked splendid when the sun came out.
The village of Hartley Wintney is at the edge of the London commuter belt. It's a little piece of Surrey that's spilt over into north-east Hampshire. The centre consists of antique shops, estate agents and a pond with a thatched duck house.

The duck house is obviously a good thing, but the human houses for sale in the estate agents would cost me around three lifetime's-worth of income, so I can't see myself living there any time soon. Never mind.

The Bashley bench looking pensive.
Arriving at the ground, I could see antlers everywhere. Not only does a hart feature on the home club's badge, but there's also a stag on Bashley's crest, and with The Bash bringing a large number of fans decked out in club merchandise, it felt as if I'd butted in during the height of the rutting season.

By the way, do you know the difference between a hart and a stag? I do (but only because I looked it up): a hart is a male red deer, whereas a stag is a generic name for the male of any deer species. So now you know too!

A Hartley Wintney shot goes harmlessly wide.
It rained. It thundered. It lightninged. And as one of the Hartley fans said: "This rain could be a great leveller." This is one of my favourite expressions about rain (or mud), along with "Good weather for ducks." Unfortunately, the ducks in Hartley village weren't too enamoured when the heavens opened, and swam off to hide in the vegetation - either that, or they were scared of me - I don't know.

I also don't know if it was the rain being a great leveller, but it soon became apparent that Bashley weren't at their best in the first half. They had chances - more chances than Hartley - but they were shooting as if they were wearing wellies instead of football boots. Everything went either wide of the goal or straight at Hartley's tremendous young goalkeeper.

Bashley fans in the rain.
Half-time, 0-0. I wandered around and took a photo of a large roller, but I'm not going to publish this one. You can just about make it out on the satellite photography on both Google and Live Maps. However, these photos are well out of date, as neither show Hartley's compact new stand, which was added to the ground a year or two back. I think I read somewhere that their ground improvements cost £470,000, but I can't remember where I saw that information, so it could be wrong.

Hartley cock-a-hoop at the final whistle; Bashley despondent.
The second half was more even, as Hartley grew more confident in a temporary sunshine window, and their opponents started arguing amongst themselves as they failed to find a way through. The breakthrough came five minutes from the end, when Hartley's substitute Dan Brownlie gathered the ball just inside Bashley's half with his first touch, and just bounded forward, snorting like a rutting hart, bundled his way past Bashley's left-back, then slotted the ball past the spreadeagled keeper. In off the far post, trickling over to the opposite corner in slow motion. Photos of the goal can be seen here (numbers 114-117 in the sequence).

Bash's stags vanquished. Fifty miles home, licking their bloody wounds. Hartley Wintney's players retired to one of the restaurants in the village with their £3,000 prize money, and partied the night away with caviar canapes and a jeroboam of best bubbly...Okay, considering the FA Cup's sponsors are Budweiser, it was more likely to be a crate of lager and a selection of crisps and peanuts, but you never know.

Hartley Wintney's new 113-seater stand.
So, three FA Cup matches for me, and three shocks. This was by far the biggest, and well-deserved too. Hartley Wintney will play host to Southern League Bideford in the next round, whilst Bashley can concentrate on the league.

I'm enjoying following the early rounds of the cup, so I hope to be at another match in two weeks time. But where?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 2007/2008

Looking up from Wembley Way prior to the 2008 FA Cup Final.
Would it be wrong to call this season the best for Hampshire football so far this century? A Saints fan would probably think it was a miserable year, as their club teetered on the edge of the financial precipice, narrowly avoiding relegation to the third tier of English football. Elsewhere, we had fun. Pompey won the FA Cup. Shall I write that again?

I said, Pompey won the FA Cup! The only trophy of any consequence they are ever likely to win in my lifetime was lifted by Sol Campbell after a 1-0 Wembley victory against Cardiff City. Lower down the ladder, Aldershot Town won the Conference, and promotion to the Football League. I'm sure Shots fans would like me to repeat that too...

The newly-formed Farnborough FC won the Southern League South & West at the first attempt, just ahead of neighbours Fleet Town (who reached the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for the first time, as well as winning three minor cup competitions). AFC Totton won the Wessex League, which meant that they would be in the Southern League the following season.
Tidying up after the FA Cup Final.
Hampshire Top Twenty rankings, 2007/2008:
  1. (1) Portsmouth 1/8
  2. (2) Southampton 2/20
  3. (3) Aldershot Town 5/1
  4. (6) Eastleigh 6/6
  5. (4) Havant & Waterlooville 6/7
  6. (7) Basingstoke Town 6/15
  7. (8) Bashley 7/5
  8. (5) Farnborough 8/1
  9. (9) Fleet Town 8/2
  10. (13) Gosport Borough 8/11
  11. (11) Winchester City 8/17
  12. (10) Andover 8/19
  13. (14) AFC Totton 9/1
  14. (15) VT FC 9/2
  15. (NE) Cove 9/4
  16. (19) Brockenhurst 9/6
  17. (16) Moneyfields 9/7
  18. (17) Fareham Town 9/8
  19. (20) Horndean 9/11
  20. (NE) Hayling United 9/12
New entrants Cove and Hayling United both finished higher up the pyramid than at any other time this century (before or since). Dropping out of the all-important twenty were neighbours Lymington Town and Lymington & New Milton - the latter dropping the pretence of having anything to do with the town of Lymington by changing their name to New Milton Town.

    Tuesday, 6 September 2011

    11. Moneyfields FC

    Moneyfields, Moneyfields, so good they named it twice.
    It is quite possible that the city of Portsmouth is a misplaced chunk of the North that was transported to the South coast upon the shoulders of giant glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. The likes of Barnoldswick and Ramsbottom were left behind in Lancashire as the ice melted and dumped the tightly-packed terracing and salt-of-the-earth inhabitants of Pompey down on Portsea Island.

    You can become quite lost in the grid of similar-looking terraced housing around the Moneyfields club. It reminds me of the layout of a Pacman game. However, instead of chomping on pixellated fruit in the backstreets of Portsmouth, on Saturday I went in search of goals and an FA Cup upset...

    There are two pitches at Moneyfields. You should go round this one.
    Moneyfields FC (0) 2 v 1 (0) Gosport Borough FC
    FA Cup Preliminary Round
    Saturday 3rd September 2011
    Official attendance: 201 (I counted at least 240, so the extras must have been club officials and other free entrants, e.g., players from other teams at the club. Headcounts are nearly always higher than the official total, which should be of paying customers only)
    Entrance: £5
    Programme: £1 (lots of match reports)
    Club shop: None seen, but then I didn't go into the clubhouse, which was absolutely heaving when I arrived - there may have been club merchandise for sale in there.
    Colours: Yellow / Navy / Navy v White / Claret / Claret
    National Grid reference: SU6602
    There were over 200 people in the crowd at Moneyfields on Saturday.
    Moneyfields have started the season in a chipper fashion, having been involved in some mighty high-scoring games so far - 6-5 at home to Romsey Town being the most remarkable. They lay second in the Wessex League table before this match, with a total of 34 goals cluttering up their For and Against cells after only five matches. Christchurch were beaten 2-0 in the previous round of the FA Cup to set up this so-called Harbour Derby against opponents from a step higher on the non-league ladder.

    As usual, I asked around before the match to see what my fellow enthusiasts knew about Moneyfields. The answers ranged from "Who are Moneyfields?" to "Aren't they the team that once played in women's underwear to stop a losing streak?*" My personal internet investigations revealed the likely existence of a club programme shop (subsequently not seen) and the guaranteed presence of trains behind the goal on the West side.

    *This Saints-supporting colleague may have been winding me up with this scandalous (if untrue) nugget.

    Trainspotting at Moneyfields: 450 109 rattles past.
    Moneyfields are a relatively young club. They started life as Portsmouth Civil Service, but as they rose through the leagues, they found they needed a better ground, so they moved into the pre-existing Moneyfields club in Copnor and changed their name. The actual ground was once used as a training facility by Portsmouth FC - there's plenty of space here, with two-and-a-half pitches and a large clubhouse, but presumably it wasn't good enough for the professional club, so they moved away from the city to practice their secret corner hand signals away from any passing spies on the trains that glide past the ground every few minutes.
    The Finest Windows & Conservatories Stand.
    Gosport Borough are traditionally the more, ahem, glamorous of the two clubs. However, like nearby Fareham Town, they have long been overtaken by the Hawks of Havant & Waterlooville, who hover over the outskirts of the city like kestrels, occasionally picking off one of the clubs' better players and giving them one or two of their nestlings in return.

    Pre-match, the Gosport manager mentioned to The News that his club were going to take the cup seriously this year - the £1,500 prize money would come in useful, and so on and so forth. Moneyfields were the underdogs, but you know, sometimes underdogs can bite (just like Pacman when confronted by a strawberry).
    Luxury seating in the dugout on the back pitch.
    Gosport managed to make the net bulge several times in the first half. Unfortunately for them, it was the net behind the goal that prevents match balls from landing on the railway track. Moneyfields did little to suggest that they were going to progress in what looked like it could be a rout once (or if) Boro opened the scoring.

    To be honest, the first half was a bit dull, so I ended up watching the trains more than the match for a ten-minute period when nothing much was happening on the pitch. Ah, the days when I used to stand on the platform of Eastleigh railway station collecting the details of all the passing locomotives in my Ian Allen bumper book of train numbers! Flask of soup in one hand, pencil poised in the other, wondering what I was doing there, and thinking "Are these really the best days of my life? Lordy me, I've got another 60 years in front of me, and collecting train numbers is as good as it gets?"

    So, I stopped collecting train numbers and moved on to vinyl records, which was much more satisfying.

    Oh, and new football grounds and enamel badges. The collecting bug - it's a man thing, isn't it?

    Goal to Moneyfields!
    The second half was better. It was as if someone had released four cartoon ghosts onto the pitch from their pen in the middle of a Pacman maze to liven things up a bit.

    Boro scored early on. Justin Bennett rounded the keeper, then took five minutes to slide the ball over the goal line as the Moneys' defence looked on. He could have hung a hammock up between the goalposts and laid down and had forty winks before scoring, such was the length of time he seemed to take.

    A few minutes later, and Moneyfields equalised with a Jack Lee volley from a corner. You can see his goal in the photo above. He scored with the outside of his left boot - tremendous skill. The pose in the photo is similar to one that Dennis the Menace took in his 1963 annual when he was running away from a lion that he'd released from a circus in order to bother Walter the Softie. The ruse backfired and he ended up being slippered by his dad. Er, just imagine a cartoon lion chasing Jack Lee in the photo - that's how menaces run away from dangerous animals...

    ...Back on subject, and Moneyfields scored again two minutes later, when Steve Hutchings lobbed the advancing keeper at the Railway End. No more Dennis the Menace comparisons this time - it was merely a very well-taken goal.

    Gosport then pinged the post, had a goal disallowed for phase two offside (which would have caused Alan Shearer to explode with confusion), and blasted several more efforts into the wrong net behind the goal. All of which equalled FA Cup ignominy for Boro, and celebration time for Moneyfields. Gosport's manager gathered his team around him on the pitch after the final whistle and let them know how embarrassing their performance was. To be fair, they probably deserved to win...but they didn't. It can be a cruel game.

    Predictably, this report ends up with a picture of some rusty old groundsman's equipment...
    So, two FA Cup matches for me so far this season, and two upsets. Moneyfields will travel to Godalming Town in the next round, hoping to win and equal their best-ever run in the competition.

    I hope to be at another cup match in the near future, but at which ground I have yet to decide...