Tuesday, 31 January 2012

19. Blackfield & Langley FC

Turn left for Blackfield & Langley FC.
As you drive along the busy road on the west side of the River Test towards Blackfield & Langley, housing estates to the left, fields of horses to the right, trying to remember the speed limit for the particular stretch of road that you're on (was it 40, 50 or 60mph here?), you are suddenly joined by a line of leggy companions at the Hythe roundabout.

These leggy companions are a hundred feet tall, made of metal, and they follow each other in a precise military line as far as you can see to the south. They are joined together by lengths of wire which sag between them like skipping ropes for giants. You wonder where they're going.

After a couple of miles you veer a little to the left and what you think could be the giants' futuristic city is revealed: dozens of tall chimneys thrusting up towards the sky in the distance - this must be where the leggy giants live?

A few minutes later, you're travelling through the village of Holbury, which is where you guessed the chimneys were, but they are well hidden behind a bank of conifers by now. The metal giants stroll on past. They don't live here.

Give us a B! Give us an L! And so on, along the length of the hoardings...
Blackfield & Langley FC (0) 0 v 2 (0) Alton Town FC
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Saturday 28th January 2012
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Attendance: 51
Club shop: No
Colours: Green / White / Green v White / Black / Black
National Grid reference: SU4402 / SU4403

Chimneys at Blackfield & Langley.
Your leggy companions are, of course, pylons, and they carry on past Blackfield & Langley's ground to Fawley Power Station, a mile to the south; the chimneys, however, stay where they are and poke up menacingly above the trees, seemingly watching the puny humans below with disapproval. Some have red "eyes" (aircraft warning lights) which make them look a little devillish. Others, with the addition of a few ribbons and bells, could be morris dancing sticks for vengeful gods, which is even more sinister. But really, they're merely chimneys, and they do a useful job of pumping out gaseous substances* at Fawley Oil Refinery.

* That's my useful job too.

Another chimney, and a fine twisting leap from this Alton Town player!
Studying the Ordnance Survey One Inch Map of The Solent for 1945 (that's a 2.6cm map these days - it took several thousand to cover the whole of the county...), you discover that most of today's large towns in the area were present and of roughly the same size, give or take a few acres. Along the Waterside, the villages of Fawley and Hythe are noticable - the former having hardly changed in size at all.

However, the oil refinery wasn't there back then - in its place was a country mansion with extensive grounds full of topiarised bushes and strutting peacocks. As for the settlements of Blackfield, Langley and Holbury...well, you need a magnifying glass to spot the former, and a particularly strong microscope to see the latter two hamlets. There can have been no more than fifty houses covering the three communities at that time. Considering Blackfield & Langley FC were founded in 1935, every able-bodied man, woman and child in the area must have had turn out for them in the early days to field a full starting XI.

Of course, the three hamlets expanded elephantinely when the power station and refinery were built. Now, if every able-bodied person in the immediate area were to play for the club at the same time, it would be a case of extreme cheating.

Streaky marmalade sky beyond Blackfield & Langley's stand.
Blackfield & Langley's history has been unremarkable. They used to play in Blackfield village, but moved to their new ground behind Gang Warily Community Centre approximately 20 years ago. Situated on a right-angled triangle of open land between villages, with a pitch and putt course to the west, and another football pitch to the east (there was a 2pm kick-off in progress next door during the first half, contested by Chelsea and AC Milan lookalikes), the ground is unfortunately covered in more graffitti than any other that I've been to so far. It must be so frustrating for their hard-working committee to have to deal with that unnecessary hassle. They seemingly can't leave anything out unguarded that can be broken, stolen or set on fire, so the ground was largely devoid of any of the interesting oddities that I sometimes come across at Wessex League stadiums.

GOOOOOAAAAL! 1-0 to Alton Town!
I was expecting some Brazilian-style silky skills from the hosts, as the Wessex League tittle-tattlers that I overhear when visiting other grounds suggest that they have the second-biggest budget in the league, and thus should be able to pay for any half-decent player that hasn't already signed for Winchester City. Something must have gone wrong here though, as they are drifting in lower mid-table. Maybe they signed Sven on as manager when he left Leicester City? Did he read about the local "leggy companions" and get the wrong end of the stick?

Alton Town are also mid-table, but their expectations must be a lot lower, so they will probably be happy with their FA Vase run this season and not being involved in a relegation scrap. If there was any pressure in this game, it would have been on Blackfield & Langley.

Manly hugs for the goalscorer as Alton pylon the pressure...
It probably goes without saying, but there were no Brazilian-style skills on display (unless it was skills from another sport - I noticed some useful piranha fishing moves during the first half). The skills were more German, although that may have been my imagination, as I thought I was watching Germany play themselves for a bit (away kit v home kit). The opening 45 minutes were high on effort, low on goalmouth action. Alton were the better side, and would probably have been ahead on most Opta statistical ratings, but they couldn't beat Blackfield's inspired keeper. The home side had their moments, but not enough to quell any grumblings from their fans dabbed around the railings.

You would think that a team playing in green might have a slight advantage, in that they would be virtually invisible to their opponents' defence, who would have trouble seeing them camouflaged against the backdrop of grass, hedges and trees. Perhaps, but this can work two ways, as it was plain that Blackfield's players must also have had trouble seeing each other - at least, this would explain their lack of accurate passing (this would also go some way towards accounting for Plymouth Argyle's league position).

Eventually, two quick goals by Alton's 9 and 8 had Blackfield at sixes and sevens. One low poke to the keeper's right, the next to his left, and that was that, bar a sending-off for the home side's number 11 during injury time - but just like Arsene Wenger, I was unsighted by a gaggle of players, so I don't know what his offence was.

...and two minutes later, it's 2-0 to the visitors.
It was a grim afternoon for the greens beneath the chimneys and pylons. I wish it could have been better for the sake of their convivial volunteers, but you can't win every week.

I plan on going to another match on 11th February, so the next report should appear early in the following week.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

18. GE Hamble FC

The Red Arrow Gnat that greets visitors to GE Hamble FC.
Oh my, oh my, but I've been poorly over the last few weeks! I feel like I've been nibbled by miniature metal squirrels who think that the muscles holding my ribcage together are an ideal place to bury nuts. The pain, the excruciating pain! More ill than when I first heard the Beastie Boys back in 1987, that's been me recently.

I've missed some football during that time: that empty seat on the Lower North Terrace at Fratton Park during the Pompey v Saints match? That was mine. The Havant & Waterlooville v Eastleigh derby day at Westleigh Park suffered a drop in attendance of one - that was me too. Oh, and last week, my intended destination of United Services Portsmouth was lacking a little something - that little something was me, not leaning on a barrier, not watching their 1-0 defeat to Brockenhurst.

So, having largely flushed out the daemonic vermin attacking my innards, it was time to return to the playing fields of Hampshire for the Wessex League match between the high-flying Planemakers of GE Hamble and the rock-bottom Humbugs of Hayling United. It was certainly good to be back.

Part of the old name board from the stand from when the club was known as Hamble ASSC.
GE Hamble FC (1) 3 v 1 (1) Hayling United FC
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Saturday 14th January 2012
Attendance: 45-50
Entrance: £5
Programme: £1
Club shop: No
Colours: Sky blue / Maroon / Maroon v Black & white stripes / Black / White
National Grid reference: SU4707

The stand and covered standing area at GE Hamble.
Older readers may remember watching Play School as children. You may remember the toys. There was lovable old Big Ted (the original was stolen and never recovered - luckily, no-one noticed when he was replaced with an identicle bear); scampy scalliwag Little Ted; flighty posho Jemima; and the rotund and accident prone Humpty...all much-loved characters, apparently befriended by comic genius Eric Morecambe and fondly recalled by anyone currently in their thirties and forties.

There was one other Play School toy that scarred our generation as much as the scary lion and the bear on Teletubbies have turned today's teenagers into quivering wrecks whenever they go near a zoo: Hamble the doll. No-one liked her, not even the programme's presenters. Whether or not this mother of Chucky had anything to do with the village of Hamble-le-Rice, I don't know, but I was aware of the place as a child, knew it was near my home, and was petrified that I might be forced to visit one day and see hundreds of cackling Hamble dolls sat in every window, beckoning me inside with their pointy, witchlike fingers. It was the stuff of nightmares. Having now visited the village several times as an adult, I can gladly report that Hamble the doll is nowhere to be seen. Panic over.

I don't know why, but this photo reminds me of the bit in Father Ted where Ted has to explain to Dougal the difference between far away and small!
Hamble-le-Rice (nobody ever calls it that!) is known throughout the county for its oil terminal, for sailing, and for its aircraft factory. The football club are based within the grounds of the factory, currently owned by GE Aviation. Because the factory has changed owners and names many times over the years, the football club has itself gone through more names than Jonathan King. They started life in 1938 as Folland Aircraft FC - several Pompey and Saints players turned out for them whilst working at the factory during the war, and due to this, they won a number of wartime trophies.

The first name change was to Folland Sports FC, then subsequently to Aerostructures Sports and Social Club, Hamble ASSC FC, and since the summer, GE Hamble FC.

The Royal Victoria Hospital peeking out from behind the trees.
GE Hamble aren't one of the more successful clubs in the Wessex League. Only one top half finish in twenty years for the Planemakers. They're flying high this season though, bothering moneybags Winchester City and Bemerton Heath Harlequins at the top of the Wessex League, like an irritating gnat that the Big Two can't quite shake off.

Talking of gnats, the most striking thing about Hamble's ground is the Red Arrow Gnat that greets visitors as they turn into King's Avenue. This was apparently made at the factory in 1960. Standing beneath it, it seems very small. It was never meant to be a passenger plane though, so it was big enough for the purpose it served.

Some of the finest tea in Hampshire can be purchased from Mugs Corner.
I don't know much about planes. What little I do know, I've learnt from reading WE Johns' Biggles books. For starters, I know that you have to yank up your joystick to take off. This is something that GE Hamble failed to do in the Hayling match, as the visitors flew into attack mode as the Planemakers were still taxiing on the runway, expectantly fondling their joysticks. The quick take-off tactics paid off for the Humbugs as they took the lead after five minutes with a skilfully taken flicked header from a right wing cross.

The home team lumbered into action during the rest of the first half, as they launched attack after attack upon their brave foe. It was like watching eleven Hurricane fighter jets against eleven Sopwith Camel biplanes. After half an hour, Hamble won a penalty as one of their players was shot down in flames in the area (fortunately, he parachuted to safety and was shortly back in action). The stout-hearted keeper earned a virtual medal as he saved a low hard shot to his left.

The courageous Humbugs couldn't hold out forever though. Before reinforcements could arrive in the form of a half-time cup of tea, they were penetrated by a bullet header from a corner by Hamble's centre-half. 1-1 at half-time, and a decent match.

GE Hamble's stand post-match.
The second half reminded me of the majority of Biggles books that took place between the wars. These were invariably tales of treasure hunting in various exotic locations throughout the world. Hamble spent the first forty minutes hunting treasure (or goals!) without success. Just as the reader thought that they would never succeed, they eventually broke through in the penultimate chapter. A flat and direct punt from central midfield skimmed off the top of Jamie Musselwhite's head and rippled the net like a stone plopping into the River Hamble.

In a game dominated by headed goals, another soon followed to complete the scoring at 3-1 to Hamble. It might have been easier to boot the ball in as it was six inches off the ground and a yard out, but the home side's centre-half obviously didn't want to spoil the game with a side-footed goal, so he got down on all fours to butt the ball with his forehead in the style of a disgruntled bison instead.

Both teams played well in a cracking game full of intrigue, just like the best Biggles books. Hamble deserved their victory, but Hayling look like a team that should avoid relegation at the end of the season, despite being bottom right now.

Goodnight from Gnat Lofthouse!
Oh, and I recommend the tea from Mugs Corner if you're thirsty. Comes in a large mug. They don't do delicate thimbleworths of tea at Mugs Corner. It's mugs only. Lovely.

Assuming my inner squirrels don't return, I should be reporting from another ground in two weeks.