Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Story So Far

Cold snacks only in this corner of Havant & Waterlooville's Westleigh Park.
The Story So Far is not only the name of one of my favourite albums (by the Mo-Dettes), but it's also a perfectly adequate title to use for a piece to sum up the first year of this blog. So I shall indeed use it as a title and hang the consequences.

I didn't really know what I was doing when I started HAH last January. I just copied over a couple of match reports from my other blog, Pleasure City Avenue, and wrote a short introductory piece. I had a vague idea that I would like to visit all the football grounds at Level 10 and above in Hampshire and write about them. So I just got on with it, without knowing if anyone else would be interested.

Thus was the beginning of the "runaway success" that is the current incarnation of Hopping Around Hampshire (up from virtually no page views per day to the present-day average of 20 or more, overtaking my older blog on Boxing Day).

The big stand at Basingstoke Town. Babies R Us just visible to the left.
By checking the stats, I soon realised that people were arriving at the site almost exclusively via Google image searches, so I upped the number of photos. The trouble is, initially I didn't take many very good ones, so firstly I had to learn how to use a camera (it's not just point and click - you have to get your subject in focus too!), and then how to edit photos to make them stand out on the electronic page. A severe crop, followed by turning up the contrast and brightness, then saturating the colour until a cartoon-like effect is achieved tends to work quite well on the screen. I now take around 20 photos at each match I attend, and use the best eight or nine.

A severe crop and contrast at Horndean v Hythe & Dibden. Sounds like a rad haircut.
I also realised before I started that intricately detailed match reports might be a bit dull for the neutral - they're perfectly fine for the immediacy of the Non-League Paper and match programmes, but people come to see blog pieces weeks and months after the event, so the writing has to be slightly more entertaining (Dub Steps is an excellent example). I admit I cross the line into pretentiousness occasionally (see AFC Portchester), but in my defence, it's pretty difficult knowing what to write about some clubs when there is so little information about them elsewhere on the 'web. Thus, like a proper journalist, I have to occasionally pad out articles with inconsequential fripperies.

Dugouts at AFC Portchester.
So, mildly entertaining/pretentious writing plus cartoon-like photography makes this blog what it is. But how many visitors has each club-based piece achieved to date? The answer to that question is below, in the form of a chart, in order of popularity:

The most-visited piece over 2011 has been...

*drum roll*

1. Hartley Wintney! With 122 page views to date!

There may be no standing allowed in front of Hartley Wintney's stand, but that hasn't stopped them from taking the coveted number one spot in the end of year HAH popularity chart!
2. AFC Totton (120 page views)
3. Horndean (102)
4. Brockenhurst (80)
5. Romsey Town (66)
6=. Stockbridge (57)

Along the touchline at Stockbridge.

6=. Fleet Town (57)
8. Fareham Town (56)
9. Basingstoke Town (45)
10. Andover New Street (40)
11. Whitchurch United (39)

Enjoying the big cup match against Gloucester City at Whitchurch United.
12. Moneyfields (38)
13. Havant & Waterlooville (32)
14. Cove (31)

The pay booth at Cove FC.
15=. AFC Portchester (17)
15=. Lymington Town (17)
17. Eastleigh (13)

Totton near the top is no surprise: the overall most-popular page thus far is a page dedicated to photos of theirs and Totton & Eling's new grounds (123 views); a photo diary of their promotion celebrations at Gosport in April has also been metaphorically well-thumbed (97 views). Arguably Hampshire's club of the year for 2011 after their promotion and FA Cup run.

More surprising is the inclusion of Hartley Wintney and Horndean at the top, and Eastleigh at the bottom. The former can be explained by having a link on the forum of their excellent unofficial website, the latter by the lack of photos in the article. Horndean's popularity is harder to explain, although I'm sure they'll be pleased. They borrowed some of my photos for their new website. If they'd like the new photo that's featured in this article too, they're welcome to copy it (the same goes for any other club website or programme editors - just let me know by leaving a comment, as I like seeing them used).

So, onwards into 2012. Barring illness or bad weather, I intend to visit two new clubs per month for the rest of the season, and then the remaining 16 in 2012/13. Enough looking back for now. It's time to look forwards. Roll on, roll on.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers

Hartley Wintney
I've been taking photos of rusty old groundsmen's equipment on my travels and saving them up for a festive treat for the many connoisseurs of that sort of thing. And so, with all those sinister-looking rubber Santas trying to break in to upstairs bedrooms wherever you look, I think it's finally time to post them!

I posted a photo of an excellent specimen in the Cove v AFC Portchester report at the start of the season. However, I've spotted several others as I've moved around the county: for example, this nice large one, safely tidied away behind some barriers at Hartley Wintney's spick and span stadium - nobody will be tripping over that!

Lymington Town
Then there was a smaller Dibben brand roller at Lymington last week, presumably used to keep the cricket square flat.

Whitchurch United
Whitchurch's roller was safely laid down away from the pitch behind some grass clippings.

Moneyfields was a rusty roller-lover's wet dream! Not only was there the previously-posted mystery equipment, but nearby was this small roller, covered in blackberry brambles, not dissimilar in style to the one at Lymington.

Then, next to Moneyfields' second pitch was this long, thin roller, looking like an old rusty hot dog...

...whilst just a few yards away was this old trailer - ideal for making a giant welly boot-throwing machine on Scrapheap Challenge.

Basingstoke Town
There was some dangerous-looking machinery behind this Ultra Spreader at Basingstoke. I never did get to take a proper snap of it, as both the times I sidled up to it, camera at the ready, there were people standing in front of it. I feel weird enough already taking photos of these things, without people thinking I'm randomly capturing them on film, thus I had to make do with the Ultra Spreader only (and that from outside the ground, post-match).

I spied a roller behind the main stand at Havant, but couldn't get a decent photo of it, and Portchester teased me by covering something big and heavy over with a tarpaulin that may have been interesting, so as I have nothing from either of those trips, for my final illustration, it's back to last season and a picture of Brockenhurst's Tabitha Tractor - which, along with the aerating roller at Stockbridge, was my favourite piece of groundsman's equipment of 2011!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

17. Lymington Town FC

The welcome sign at the entrance to Lymington Town FC's Sports Ground.
There is a sweet little toy shop in Lymington's High Street called H.E. Figgures where you can buy Sylvanian Families. For those not in the know (and that would be anyone who is not, or has never been, an eight-year-old girl!), Sylvanians are cute animal families that tend to live in canal boats or windmills in the imaginary land of Sylvania. The larger families consist of grandparents, a mum and dad, boy and girl children, and possibly a baby. You can own families of squirrels, badgers, penguins, cats, dogs, etc. All delightful, with hours of fun for young girls.

But what if the mums and dads of the beaver and duck families got divorced and remarried to a member of the other species? Would Mummy Beaver and Daddy Duck be able to have children in their second marriage? Unlikely, unless a satanic big brother "helped out" his sister by ripping the head off of one of the ducklings and stuck it on to the neck of a decapitated beaver (I am definitely NOT advocating that anybody try this, by the way). Some things just aren't meant to be.

On the other hand, various cat mummies could have new babies with other cat daddies, because they are the same species. This could potentially work out well.

Spying the main stand through a hole in the away dugout.
Lymington Town FC (0) 1 v 5 (1) New Milton Town FC
Saturday December 3rd 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 80-90
Entrance: £5
Programme: £1
Club shop: No
Colours: Red / white / black v Orange / white / orange
National Grid reference: SZ3195 / SZ3295

The back of the home dugout.
And just where is this rambling and seemingly pointless Sylvanian story leading, you may ask? Well, it's meant to be an analogy of the joining together of neighbouring football clubs, some of which work out for the best, e.g., Havant & Waterlooville (that would be the cat example); whereas others just don't work well at all. However hard you try to successfully attach a duck's head to a beaver's body, it's just not going to happen.

Beyond the dugouts, beyond the cricket sight screens, it's the Church of St Thomas.
And now for a long-forgotten fairytale: Once upon a time there were two low-key football clubs in neighbouring towns in south-west Hampshire. Lymington FC and New Milton FC played quite happily in the Hampshire League for several decades without any real desire to move onwards and upwards to the Southern League. To be honest, even if they wanted to move on, they were never good enough on the pitch, with very few trophies won between them.

There were other clubs in both towns: New Milton had Bashley as rivals; Lymington had Wellworthy Athletic. In the mid-1980s, Bashley started becoming successful, and were promoted to the Southern League from the newly-formed Wessex League. New Milton were left well behind in the third division of the Hampshire League.

Four miles to the east, Lymington and Wellworthy both became founder members of the Wessex League. The latter club were a works team that played less than a mile from Lymington's Sports Ground. When they were denied the use of their own ground in 1988, they had no choice but to merge with Lymington FC. The new club became AFC Lymington.

I know at least one cat who would love to climb up that fireman's tower!
AFC Lymington were very successful (the cat + cat example), winning the Wessex League three times in the Britpop era - an oasis of fruitful football on the edge of the New Forest, pulping all opposition. However, as you may be able to tell from the photos, their ground wasn't up to Southern League standard, so they were denied promotion. They had hit the proverbial glass ceiling and it was giving them a headache.

In the meantime, New Milton Town had moved in to a smart new ground. Members of each committee decided it would be wise to amalgamate the two clubs, so that Lymington's good team could play in a good ground and have a better chance of promotion. So they did. The new club became Lymington & New Milton FC in 1998, and they did eventually move on up. Unfortunately, the appetite for football at a higher level in the area was already satiated by the more established Bashley, and the new club struggled to gain enough fans to sustain them (beaver + duck).

Lymington's fans that didn't agree with the merger stayed at the Sports Ground and started Lymington Town again from scratch. They've gradually climbed their way back in to the Wessex League, where they now regularly face New Milton Town (the new name for Lymington & New Milton!). Both clubs claim the original Lymington FC's history. I think we need Pete Frame to create a football-themed Rock Family Tree especially for these two.

Floodlights shimmering like 100,000 fireflies in the early evening sky.
Regular followers of the Wessex League could be forgiven for believing that New Milton have changed their name yet again - this time to "New Milton Town Nil" (oh well, it's nearly that time of year when we all love to groan at cracker jokes...). Both sides were on a poor run of results going in to this match, with Lymington in mid-table and New Milton next to bottom. I was told on the gate that it could be a feisty affair, but in the event, it transpired that people around these parts are too polite to be feisty.

It was certainly a well-contested game between two evenly-matched sides. New Milton took the lead early on through the outstanding player on the pitch, Alex Baldacchino (who went on to score four of New Milton's five goals) - where others were unable to lose their markers, Baldacchino was clever enough to find space in the box and was also quick enough to shoot accurately before he was closed down. No surprise to see him near the top of the Wessex League's goalscoring charts.

Along the benches of Lymington Town's stand post-match.
And so to the half-time refreshments. Lymington's clubhouse was burnt down during the summer, but it's gradually being rebuilt. You can have a glass of lemonade on the patio whilst watching cricket during the summer months - very nice!

The visitors went 2-0 up within a minute of the restart, but within another minute, the home side had pulled one back, so the second half promised much. Then Lymington had their best chance of equalising when what sounded like the crack of willow on leather (but was actually football boot on attacker's shin within the penalty area) sounded out across the ground. Unfortunately for them, penalty saved. Two minutes later, the home side walloped the woodwork, but after that, it was all New Milton.

Floodlights sparkling in the darkness at Lymington.
The third goal was a Samir Nasri-style free-kick - 30 yards out, hopeful punt into the box, bounces past all the outfield players, goalie flummoxed, and sneaks in to the bottom corner...

With confidence visibly percolating out of their bright orange kit as night-time's chilly fingers stretched out over Hampshire, New Milton added two more goals in the last five minutes (the last of which was described as "Playstation football" by one of their delighted players - and who am I to disagree?).

They would be dancing on the streets of New Milton when the result was announced in the town. But before then, the grumbling, mumbling and head-shaking of the Lymington Town fans as they headed for the exits made this neutral sad. "You work hard all week, and then they serve up this on a Saturday!" The reactions in defeat are the same for the fan of the small club as it is for the game's giants.

I bet they never feel like that in Sylvania.

The sun goes down and the world plays football.
For more detail on the histories of these two clubs, see Dave Twydell's Gone But Not Forgotten Part 34.

I have now reached halfway in my quest for this season (the eighth match out of the planned sixteen). Who knows where I shall report from next?