Tuesday, 18 October 2011

14. Basingstoke Town FC

FA Cup 3rd qualifying round derby day at Basingstoke Town FC.
Let's get this straight from the start, because the residents of Basingstoke will be expecting this: Boringstoke (or Basingjoke) is simply an enormous, soulless series of interconnected housing estates plonked slap-dash in the middle of Hampshire's chemically-leached agricultural desert, with a high-rise centre which resembles downtown Minneapolis. Quaint, it ain't.

There, Stokies knew that was coming - because it always does. That's not my opinion, that's just a précis of every other reference to the town on the WWW. Everyone seems to have a downer on the town, whether or not they've actually been there. You so often see the word Basingstoke used as shorthand for new town suburban tedium (see also: Swindon, Harlow, and any other town that was rapidly expanded post-war to give bombed-out Londoners a roof and a new life).

My opinion? Everybody has to live somewhere. Why not Basingstoke? It seems tidy and clean. It undoubtedly lacks the charm of Merry Olde Englande, but living in an idyllic picture-book thatched village costs a lot of money, which most of us don't have. If all you can afford is a functional, but comfortable and warm semi with an average-sized garden for your summer barbeques, then Basingstoke is just fine. And if you like shopping, then it's even finer, with the eighth-largest shopping centre in the UK, plus large numbers of American-style breezeblock superstores.

For facts, figures and positive images of Basingstoke, head here! For snide comments and snarky put-downs, head just about everywhere else on the 'web. Stokies, I'm on your side.

Outside, looking in from the club car park.
Basingstoke Town FC (4) 4 v 0 (0) Hartley Wintney FC
Saturday October 15th 2011.
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round
Attendance: 577
Entrance: £12
Programme: £2 (glossy, lots of adverts, not much content - currently advertising for a programme editor if anyone is interested)
Club shop: Yes, enamel badge bought for £3.
Colours: All blue with yellow trim (Wimbledon style) v Orange / Black / Orange (like Dundee United!).
National Grid reference: SU6250

The sprinkler comes on pre-match.
As for Basingstoke Town Football Club, they've been in a rut. Now they want to get out of it. Stuck at the same level of the pyramid since the age of the dinosaurs - not good enough to be promoted, nor bad enough to be relegated for year upon humdrum year.

However, things could get better this season. They brought in a group of players from the London area during the summer, whilst offloading several of their surplus locally-based players - many of whom ended up at...Hartley Wintney. The newbies have done well so far, with Basingstoke bothering the business end of the Conference South table for the first time in a while, scoring an average of two goals per game.

A big thumbs-up from Stokie the Dragon, Basingstoke Town's mascot.
As for Hartley Wintney, I saw them beat Bashley in the FA Cup four weeks ago, and was impressed by the spirit of the club as a whole, but particularly by the players' determined attitude on the pitch. Evidently, they must have showed even more grit in coming from behind to beat Bideford two weeks later, and they were rewarded with the perfect cup tie. Like all clubs outside the top two divisions, they were never going to reach the real FA Cup final, so the chance to get one over on their relatively big rivals in front of a 500+ crowd was going to be their own mini-cup final.

With so many of Hartley Wintney's squad having so much to prove to the Basingstoke management, they could have been forgiven for arriving at the ground with a collective grudge and some shenanigans in mind. But, to their collective credit, they're not like that at all. This is a disciplined group of players, who play fairly, but with a great deal of heart and no little skill for the level they play at.

Mind you, there is still a massive four-step difference between the two clubs (the equivalent for Basingstoke would be a tie against Pompey or Saints). Only in their wildest dreams (the ones that don't involve bareback dolphin riding or naughty nuns, at any rate), could Hartley Wintney possibly have expected to win. But there's always hope, even when the situation should be hopeless.

This could have been a classic cup tie.

Staring into the sun at Basingstoke Town.
I liked Basingstoke's ground. It has one large stand, which isn't unusual at this level. The stand hides the twin toy megastores across the dual carriageway - Babies R Us to the left; Toys R Us to the right as you look from across the pitch. Geoffrey the Giraffe must have seen quite a lot of action over the years, but only at the entrance end, as the stand blocks his view of the far end. There are three covered terraces, and one uncovered terrace, each of which consist of three of four steps.

The pitch is lit by eight tall latticed floodlight towers, which have 'eyes' like the old For Mash Get Smash advertising aliens. Not that lights were needed on Saturday, which was yet another cloudless, t-shirt kind of a day. Looking at the photos I've been taking recently, anyone would think that the sun always shines in Hampshire. Well, it doesn't.

Lattice floodlight pylon at Basingstoke Town.
Pre-match, Stokie the Dragon wandered around the pitch, posing for photos and wobbling his nose for his fans (that would be the under-tens and me then!). I've missed seeing mascots at most of the non-league grounds I've been to. It must be a giggle dressing up as an animal for an hour or so. You wouldn't want to be the back end of a pantomime horse (ouch! the backache!), but a tufted dragon, straight out of a drug-fuelled psychedelic dream - I'd like to have a go at that.

I don't know what Stokie had for lunch, but the Basingstoke footballers must have had some of it too. You could almost see the fire on their breath as they rampaged into Hartley in the first half. The village side were done for by the 23rd minute, as Amazingstoke went 3-0 up, thanks to their slick movement and extra nous. Another goal just before half-time, and Hartley's hopes went up in dragon smoke.

Careful! Don't step offside! Waiting for a Hartley Wintney free-kick delivery.
I started to think of the highest score I'd ever seen at a live match, because the record was in danger. This happens to be Norwich City's 8 goals without reply against Sutton United at Carrow Road over twenty years ago - a match which took place at the height of inflatable mania. Carrow Road was a riot of rubber canaries; Sutton had a blow-up giraffe - their most memorable chant that day was "There's only one giraffe in Sutton!"

Basingstoke's giraffe, Geoffrey, looked down on the Camrose with a giraffey grin on his face as his team attacked the goal that he could see during the second-half. He didn't witness any goals though, as a combination of stout defending, good saves, and a general improvement in Hartley's play prevented a potential record-breaking embarrassment for the villagers.

Thus, it remained 4-0 until the end. The second half was a 0-0 draw. Hartley will be disappointed with their start, but they do have a possible promotion to aspire to, as they are the most likely team to overhaul Guernsey at the top of the Combined Counties Division One.

Basingstoke Town have another home draw in the 4th qualifying round. If they can beat Staines Town, they will play in the first round proper, possibly against a big club such as Sheffield Wednesday. If they have more of Stokie's dragon food before the game, I'm sure they'll win.

A rusty gas flue behind the stand.
As for me, I shall be leaving the FA Cup behind for the time being, as there are no Hampshire clubs at home in the final qualifying round that I've not previously reported on. Thus, I shall be at a league match for my next adventure. That'll be a return to bread and butter football then, but the joy of groundhopping is never knowing what to expect, so even bread and butter can be surprising. Until next time...

NB: Pitchside Photography was at the match, taking plenty of high-quality photos - I spotted him early on, which saved me the fuss of trying to get a decent action shot!

Another NB: Having checked, the floodlights look nothing like the Mash Get Smash aliens' eyes! More like Vauxhall Chevette headlamps.


  1. Great blog Andrew and some nice pictures

    You should have come and said hello.

    Hopefully see you at a game soon and thanks for the link

  2. Thanks for the comment Paul. I remembered seeing you taking photos at Hartley Wintney - if I see you at another match, I'll say hello for sure.

    I'd recommend anyone who enjoys football photography to head over to Paul's site (link in the side bar on the right). I don't know how I missed the metal swift on the pay hut at Andover New Street, but Paul spotted it!