Tuesday, 28 February 2012

21. Bashley FC

Bashley FC @ The Groovy Food Company Stadium.
I felt dirty.

Despite visiting one of the cleanest, most sanitary football grounds in the entire history of the universe, I felt very dirty indeed. As a Pompey fan in St Mary's, it felt so very wrong. Maybe it was the army of cleaners with wet wipes, scrubbing the seats whenever someone stood up. Perhaps it was the enforced family-friendly atmosphere - a bacteria-free stadium, safe for your precious young ones (they will never be poorly again!) - a place for germ-free adolescents and their Stepford mothers and fathers, all holding hands together, faces gleaming with their sanctimonious sickly smiles. It was horrible.

I needed to go somewhere with character, somewhere more earthy, somewhere that's not afraid of a bit of muck - indeed, somewhere that prized muck above the brass that Saints were constantly trying to part from me with their loud and shiny advertising. That somewhere was Bashley, and I was happier than a room full of sandboys to be there. Back to proper football in a proper stadium. And on a lovely sunny Spring afternoon too.

It felt right.

Proper turnstiles at Bashley.
Bashley FC 2 (0) v (0) 1 Leamington FC
Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division
Saturday 25th February 2012
Attendance: 219
Admission: £10
Programme: £1.50
Club shop: Yes. Badges £3. According to their website, they may have some yellow wigs on offer - I can't say if they were curly Scouser wigs or Jedward gonk-style, because unfortunately I didn't see any in the shop.
Colours: Gold / Black / Black v All blue with yellow trim
National Grid reference: SZ2497

Leamington FC fans hog one of Bashley's covered terraces.
Of course, Bashley's ground isn't dirty as such, more "lived in". There may be a patch of rust here, a splurge of algae there, but it's all healthy countryside muck. Along with Brockenhurst, Bash are one of only two clubs that I'll be visiting within the New Forest National Park boundary. There are a pair of becoated horses in the field next door (more interested in hunting for hay than watching a football match), and a caravan site beyond the far boundary fence. It's an idyllic place to watch a match. You can understand why so many fans of other Southern League clubs say that Bashley is their favourite away trip of the season.

Leamington brought a large number of supporters on Saturday - at least 50. Clubs from the Midlands usually have a good raucous following, and they are no exception. They are the reformed version of the old AP Leamington, who were in the Conference for a few years. They originally broke up when the parent company sold their old ground for housing, but the new club (in a new ground) are steadily working their way back. I'm sure they'll make at least Conference North in the near future.

Gorgeous Spring weather in the New Forest for this Southern League match.
In love for the very first time:

When I first moved to Southampton, just over twenty years ago, there were no non-league sides locally who were playing at a higher standard than the Wessex League - AFC Totton, Eastleigh and Sholing were all lower down the ladder then. If Pompey were far far away in the north and I wanted to watch a semi-professional game to sate my Saturday yearnings, the choice was between either Waterlooville or Bashley. I occasionally went to both. Whereas Ville played on an industrial estate in the middle of a fairly bland town, the journey to Bash might involve a stop-off to look for shrikes on the heaths of the forest. It was more of an adventure.

And when arriving at the ground, there was an old sign at the entrance, which I half-remember said "Come On The Bash" in slanty capitals. I couldn't help but love them.

I didn't stop going on purpose - I just had children. Everything else stops for small children. Even trips to Bashley. I did take my son there for his first-ever football match at the age of five, but he was bored, so we never went back.

Leamington's subs look on as Bashley take a corner.
When visiting elderly relatives, my children invariably earn some "ooh, haven't they grown!" money. In other words, they are given £1 every time someone mentions how much they've grown. My daughter would wear 20-inch platform heels if she could, just to squeeze a little more cash out of her poor old dad. Returning to Bashley after such a long break, I wondered if they would earn some "ooh, haven't they grown!" money from me? The answer turned out to be No, as the ground hadn't changed at all since I was last there (with the exception of the old sign, which was nowhere to be seen). And that's just fine by me.

If you'd been there at the club's formation in 1947, they say that you would have seen a stream running through the centre of the pitch. Can you imagine that at, say, Stamford Bridge? Imagine Ashley Cole having to wear wellie boots when he takes a throw-in. He'd lose all our respect. I know that health & safety hadn't been invented in 1947, but even so, I rather think that the stream story must be an exaggerated version of the truth (whatever that truth may be).

Heads it's mine! Bashley attack whilst members of the crow family caw approvingly from the oak tree beyond.
The match was to be a mid-table clash. Bashley have been hovering a little above the relegation zone for most of the season; Leamington have just dropped out of the play-off positions after not winning a single match thus far in 2012.

It was an open game between two attacking sides, with chances to score at both ends. When nothing was happening on the pitch, you could turn around and watch the neighbouring horses gallumphing around their field - they were doing everything together, as though they were tied together with string.

Unfortunately, there was a five minute break in play towards the end of the first half, as Bashley's Matt Findlay fell awkwardly. It was immediately obvious that he was in a great deal of pain, as you can hear everything that goes on on the pitch at this level. It turns out that he broke his ankle. He was carried off on a bright yellow stretcher. I hope that he has a job that doesn't involve standing, as his Bashley appearance money won't be enough to live on. Part-time players aren't operated on by Dr Richard Steadman, and they don't have private swimming pools to recuperate in. I hope he recovers enough to play again next season.

That put a downer on the first half. However, something wonderful happened at half-time: there was delicious home-made cake for sale outside the refreshment hut! As half-time at this match was the exact halfway point in my journeys around the grounds, I really had to buy some to celebrate. Washed down with a nice cup of tea...it couldn't have been better!

Bashley all a-buzz as their team win 2-1.
I haven't seen a 0-0 draw yet, and I didn't think this match would end up scoreless. It didn't.

Leamington scored first. If I'd been in front of the TV doing some knitting* and glanced up as the shot left the forward's boot, I would have thought "ah, that's going over the bar, I shall carry on knitting safe in the knowledge that I'm not missing any significant action..." I would have missed the goal, as the ball dipped under the crossbar.

Two minutes later, Bashley's Mark Gamble, er, gambled that the ball would come to him six yards out with the keeper beaten by a low hard cross. It did, and he side-footed home for 1-1.

There were further chances for both sides in the pleasant Spring sunshine. Eventually, after several home corners, Bashley's Dave Allen scored with a slow motion header. I expected the Dulux dog to leap up and nod the ball off the line (as currently happens in an advert for phones or insurance or something other than Dulux paint). Neither a dog nor the Leamington defence managed to stop the ball, and as it hit the net, I jumped up and hollered a big YEEEEESSSS!

In love with Bashley all over again.

*The match wasn't on TV, and I don't knit.

Big Bash congratulations for goalscorer Dave Allen.
An afternoon at the football that was as life-affirming and as joyous as the first time I heard The Raindrops. As the lyric in one of their songs goes: "Boss with a capital B!"

I'll be back.

As a puzzling addendum, it's okay to follow four clubs, isn't it? Plenty of people follow a league club, a non-league club and perhaps a Scottish third division team, after all. But four? I already have Pompey, Havant & Waterlooville and Romsey Town - none of whom are ever likely to play each other in anger. If I added Bash to my list, they could easily end up playing the Hawks in the league. Who would I cheer for? Something to ponder...

1 comment:

  1. I fell in love with this ground when i first visited in January 2005.

    I was fortunate to become a club secretary for a London side a year later and we arranged a pre-season weekend in Bournemouth, i used my charm offensive to make sure we got a friendly against Bashley and succeeded!

    It was times like this that my job became a pleasure. Will always have a soft spot for this ground