Tuesday, 27 March 2012

23. Tadley-Calleva FC

The entrance to Tadley-Calleva's pitch is hidden behind the changing rooms.
So, what does Calleva mean exactly? Town, Athletic, United - these are all quickly understood football club suffixes, but Calleva is unique.

Well, Calleva (or Calleva Atrebatum, to be more accurate) is the Latin name for the nearby settlement of Silchester, which has a well-preserved area of ancient walls and, perhaps more excitingly, a real-life, actual Roman amphitheatre. You can regularly see archaeologists working hard at the site, digging away (very carefully), dusting off fragments of mosaic and occasionally discovering an old coin or two.

From their studies, we know that there was a primitive form of football played at the amphitheatre, often involving teams of trained wild bears (see the photo below for an artist's impression of what this type of football may have looked like). From carefully pieced together fragments of writing on clay tablets, we know that one of the teams that regularly played at the amphitheatre was called Calleva Nil Satis Nisi Optimum (Silchester Nothing But The Best Is Good Enough FC). We can only speculate as to the ancient rules, but I'm sure it must have been very entertaining for the locals.

A wild and fierce bear playing football at Roman Silchester's amphitheatre.
Tadley-Calleva FC (0) 0 v 0 (0) Ringwood Town FC
Saturday 24th March 2012
Sydenham's Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 38 (headcount)
Entrance: £4
Programme: £1
Club shop: No (nor is there a clubhouse until next season - currently under construction)
Colours: Yellow / black / black v All red
National Grid reference: SU6062

Tadley-Calleva's Barlows Park ground as seen from the nearby heathland.
From these venerable roots grew the modern-day football club of Tadley-Calleva FC. Note the hyphen in the name - a pedant's joy - the hyphen being a strong elasticated rope which binds together the present-day town of Tadley in north Hampshire with its 2,000 year-old predecessor. There can be no hiding that they're proud of their heritage around these parts - that hyphen is a giveaway.

Today's Tadley is positioned close to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. An aerial view of the surrounding area reveals several weapons bunkers within a mile of Barlows Park. Between the football ground and the weapons facility lies a heath, golden with gorse flowers at this time of the year. Stonechats would normally be found in habitat like this, crackling and twizzling away, but I didn't see any on Saturday.

The neat and tidy stand at Tadley-Calleva FC, the letters T and C written in gold.
Barlows Park lies on the north side of what is now called Silchester Road, or, far more interestingly, the old Devil's Highway to Londinium. You can just about imagine the old blues singer Robert Johnson standing at the crossroads behind the ground, selling his soul to the devil (after a swift appetiser of Pretzel dusted calamari, marinara sauce & mustard aioli in the Broomsquire Hotel - Sky Sports is available there).

The trouble with Tadley-Calleva's ground being on the north side of the Devil's Highway is that this is the boundary between Hampshire and Berkshire - which means that the match that I watched on Saturday took place outside of my home county. However, as the town of Tadley lies totally within Hants, barring the football ground, I'm still counting them as a Hampshire club. Otherwise, the new name for this blog would be Hopping Around Hampshire Incorporating Bumbling Around Berkshire, making it sound like an amalgamation of 1970s comics (see Whizzer & Chips Incorporating Topper - if that even existed - must check).

An obedient puppy posing for the camera at Tadley-Calleva.
Barlows Park is a new ground, built in 2007 on an old landfill site. I guess if future archaeologists dig down beneath the pitch, they might find a great deal of evidence of 20th century civilisation - old Marmite jars, fragments of comics incorporating other comics, mustard seeds, etc. As fascinating to people in 2,000 years time as the Roman excavations at Silchester are to us now. They wouldn't find any old tea bags or drinks cartons from Saturday's match however, as the refreshments hut wasn't open. They're currently building a new clubhouse next to the changing rooms, so there should be food and drink available to visitors next season.

As a new facility - shared with Reading's women's football team - there aren't any rickety old stands to admire at Barlows Park. There's a nice new one which provided some ice-cool relief from the heat, and was more full than is usual at the smaller clubs that I've visited, where people often gather around the clubhouse. The whole place is neat and tidy and as pleasant as a Mr Whippy 99 on a warm day. Grizzliness and character will come with age, and at only five years old, there's no wrinkles at Tadley quite yet.

The unused refreshments hut.
I'm not trying to avoid mentioning the match, but there's not much to write about it. I'd had high hopes for this one, as both clubs had been on a good run recently (barring an 8-0 home defeat for the hosts last week). Not only that, but the last Wessex League Division One match I'd watched (AFC Portchester v Team Solent) had produced nine goals. And what's more, Tadley-Calleva had featured in my favourite game from last season, a 4-3 defeat at Andover New Street.

But like a lot of hotly-anticipated matches, this one finished 0-0. Tadders (as they call themselves, sounding like a commentator on Test Match Special) had several good chances, including two virtually open goals to aim at. Sadly, they must have been watching the penalty takers in the recent Six Nations rugby tournament a little too closely, as almost every shot went high over the bar. As Tadders' net custodian kept yelling: "Composure!"

No composure = no goals.

I wonder if the wild and fierce Roman bears could have done any better?

Ringwood Town on the attack.
I'll finish off with two short quizzes on Roman town names and Latin football mottos, for no better reason than I like setting quizzes.

We've learnt that Calleva Atrebatum = Silchester. Which English towns were once known by the following Latin names:

1. Venta Bulgarum
2. Noviomagus
3. Deva
4. Aquae Sulis
5. Durovernum

Upon whose club crests would you find the following Latin mottos:

1. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum
2. Arte et Labore
3. Audere est Facere
4. Superbia in Proelia
5. Domus Clamantium

Extra-special speccy kudos if you can translate any of the phrases.

The last motto would almost certainly be a pointless answer on TV's Pointless. And as that show's Richard Osman might say: "See how many you can get at home"

I'll post the answers in the comments in a few days.

A life-sized aluminium model of the Michelin Man's body next to the turnstile at Tadley-Calleva.
A nice day out at Tadders, despite the lack of goals, and if I achieve nothing else in my life, at least I've managed to squeeze a mention of mustard aioli in to a football report, which may be a world first.

There'll be two more featured matches this season, both appearing after Easter...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Goodbye Ceefax :-(

Pompey see off Ceefax in style on its last night.
The day I thought would never come arrived this week. The day they switched off Ceefax forever. Never again will we stare for hours at pages 302-315, the football headlines pages, and their related metaphorically well-thumbed pages 316-322 (results) and 324-329 (league tables). No more 338 (football gossip) or 323 (football shorts).

And goodbye to 390-399, the local sports headlines, fixtures, results and non-league tables (handy for football, speedway and London Irish rugby news).

My most-viewed Ceefax page, 399.
Also au revoir to 528, the latest pop charts (despite the fact that I haven't heard a top 40 hit in at least 15 years without thinking "that's a load of tripe, not as good as in my day", I still felt the need to keep up).

It all looked so retro, but then it looked dated from its very first day, around 30 years ago. Now replaced by shiny red button and its dig down into the tree view, if you can work out where to go. Five steps to local fixtures and scores, and if you go wrong, it's yellow button to go back and try again...

I suppose I'll get used to it, but pressing the magic numbers 3...0...2 was so much easier.


A random Ceefax page from 2010.
By the way, the next day I believe will never come is the day that the Sun rises up like a big hot angry devil's cupcake and devours our puny Earth. Not for a few billion years, hopefully. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

22. Portsmouth FC

The famous mock-Tudor entrance to Fratton Park, home of Portsmouth FC.
This was to be my Grand Finale, the Crowning Glory, the Wanderer Returns To His Spiritual Home! My plan was to leave Pompey until the very last report on the very last day of this blog. All other clubs could come in no particular order, as circumstance and the fixture lists dictated, but Pompey were always to come last.

But circumstances and worry have brought the trip to Fratton Park forward. Worry that Pompey may never play there again after this match. I had to be there this week, but still I could have left the writing of a report until another time, as it appears there will be more matches yet at the old ground. I could have left it until they actually won a game with me in attendance, but I could have been waiting a long time (sadface).

Behind the Fratton End.
Portsmouth FC (0) 1 v 3 (0) Middlesbrough FC
Saturday 3rd March 2012
NPower Championship
Attendance: 16,770
Admission: £25
Programme: Er, forgot to buy one - oops!
Club shop: Yes. Badges £2.50. Club-branded combs, toothbrushes, rubbers, confectionery, etc.
Colours: Blue / white / red v Red / red / white
National Grid reference: SU6600 / SZ6699 (the only football ground I know of that straddles two 100km grid squares!)

Specks Lane, behind the Milton End.
I've been coming to Fratton Park since the age of five. Years and years of standing and sitting and standing again, with dad, mum, friends, my son and daughter, or on my own. I've been here hundreds of times. I've seen good Pompey sides, I've seen bad Pompey sides, and I've seen a few truly great Pompey sides. They have mostly been somewhere between the extremes (usually around 17th in the Second Division), but it never matters as long as they're just there.

Going to Pompey has been a habit, but mostly an enjoyable one. Sometimes, the actual football doesn't matter - it's the people I go with, or just the sights and the sounds and the smells. Joining in with the communal singing and chanting on the Fratton End can feel like a transcendental religious experience (oh dear, I try to avoid clichés in these reports as much as possible, but sometimes a cliché expresses a thought just about right). Yelling at opposition players (but never one of our own), seeing them respond and personally getting them booked or sent off (red cards for Messrs W. Rooney, C. Ronaldo, Kevin Davies!) - there's a feeling of power, of shaping the event, of being a real part of the experience, rather than just being a helpless armchair critic, raving at a screen. There's nothing like it.

I, personally, have sucked the ball into the net many times at the Fratton End, and it always feels like it was me that scored the goal. When 4,000 other people feel the same way, you can probably hear us bellowing with joy all the way to the outskirts of Southampton. Fratton Park may be a ramshackle throwback, but it rocks more than Motorhead, the Sex Pistols and The Who all playing at the same time in the same place. We turn it up to 12. We make a certain other Hampshire club sound like newly-hatched mute swans.

The Milton End.
But it could be all over soon.

We've had years of greedy management and pampered players, of fake sheiks on the take, take, take. £500,000,000 of Sky TV money cascading over the club, attracting rats, vagabonds and scoundrels galore. All take, take, take. No investment in a new training ground or youth academy. The only investment has been in building their own mansions and buying diamond-studded number plates for their gold-plated Hummers. Just how many luxury bathrooms do you need?

Greedy pigs snuffling out the golden truffles. Prices up, scam the fans, pretend to care. Years and years of it.

We've had no choice. It's a smaller version of the wider world, where City bankers, corrupt politicians, chief executives of tax-dodging mega-corporations and mafiosi are all in it together, all untouchable. They can do whatever they like and we pay for it. It could happen at any football club, and it does. It's just been worse at Pompey than anywhere else.

And then they'll come out with weasel words through the media telling us how innocent they were in our downfall, and some people will believe them. Your club could be next, so enjoy the good times now.

The wall of legends beneath the North Stand...Bradbury, Prosinecki, Berger, Primus...Lauren and Djimi Traore nowhere to be seen.
So, do Pompey stay as they are, or do they give it all up and start again? There are sound arguments for both sides, for example in the comments here and here.

The only way out of administration currently seems to be to allow Balram Chanrai to take over as owner yet again. He claims he is owed £17,000,000, which he would lose if the club were liquidated. He has stated many times that he is not interested in the club - that he is merely an ordinary businessman protecting his assets. The likely outcome after he has paid himself all the parachute payments would be that Pompey would be in the lower half of the Fourth Division in a couple of years and stony broke once again. It is at this point that either someone else will buy the club or it will be liquidated anyway.

At least we would still have Fratton Park for another year or two.

Middlesbrough players warming up before the match. Archibald Leach's South Stand behind them.
Assuming no other buyers are found (and the debts are way too big for the Supporters Trust to take on), the alternative is to deny him his money, liquidate the club and start again. But where would a new club play, both geographically and by status?

Chanrai owns Fratton Park, so it's unlikely Portsmouth City FC (please, please, NOT AFC Portsmouth!) would be able to play there. The most likely new home grounds would be either the United Services ground near Portsmouth Harbour (where Portsmouth's first major club Royal Artillery played, and where the Pompey Chimes were first sung - a spiritual home, if you like), or the athletics stadium at Alexandra Park. Both grounds would need their capacity increased, but that shouldn't be a problem if the council and/or Navy are friendly.

How many people would turn up to watch a new club? Judging by other so-called phoenix clubs, probably around half the current average, so somewhere between 5-10,000 would seem about right.

Where would a new club start? The Wessex League? Well, if a large proportion of the prospective support travel to away matches - and with every match at Wessex League level being a local derby - then up to 5,000 travelling fans per match is quite possible. Would the likes of Stockbridge be able to cope? Quite plainly, the answer is no. Would matches then have to be switched to the nearest stadium capable of holding 5,000 fans? That's a lot of away games to be played at AFC Bournemouth, Salisbury City, Havant & Waterlooville, and, yes, St Mary's (AFC Totton and Eastleigh's grounds are both too small).

The same problem would be encountered at Southern League level, so the lowest place a new Pompey could safely start is Conference South. This would annoy a lot of non-league fans who would resent a brand new club parachuting in above them in the league structure having never played a match, and I can appreciate that, but I think the same criteria would be applied to any big club restarting in non-league. Safety should, and probably would come first in this case.

Of course, a third alternative is that a new club does not start up, and every Pompey fan disperses to watch their local non-league club, with the Hawks, Gosport Borough, Fareham Town, etc, quadrupling their fanbases overnight. Some people will do that (and I strongly suspect a small number have done so already), but I think it's the least likely outcome.

As Adam Ant (nearly) once said, "non-league is nothing to be scared of".

The Fratton End, home to 4,000 of the most vocal home supporters.
The match against Middlesbrough didn't matter. Pompey lost, but not through lack of trying. At least we lost to one of Saints' promotion rivals (wind-up-Saints-face). Our four best players (Jason Pearce, Joel Ward, Stephen Henderson, Greg Halford) stayed behind to clap the Fratton End. We may never see them play for us again, as they could be sent out on loan by the administrator, and they may not come back if we are relegated (or worse). Of course, nobody else wants our highly-paid ex-Premiership "stars", so we're stuck with Tal Ben-Haim and the like until their extraordinary contracts run out.

Pompey Trust members walked around with buckets collecting 50p's. 40,000 of them will pay Dave Kitson's wages for a week. Apparently, he was on the pitch for a bit on Saturday.

Madness, utter madness.

Leaving the North Stand.
As the Fratton End chanted on Saturday: "You greedy bastards, get out of our club", and "You'll never notice how much we love you, until you take our Pompey away".

What a mess. When will it all end?