Wednesday, 15 August 2012

25. New Milton Town FC

It's New Milton Town FC verses Newport IOW in the FA Cup!
It's been a long wet summer. After Marvellous March left us spoiled for sunshine, but short of water, it just rained and rained and then rained some more - April, May, June, wet, wetter, wettest. Damp, grey, sodden. All the umbrellas in Hampshire couldn't stop this rain.

Going out meant donning galoshes and sou'westers. Still, staying in wasn't so bad for us sports fans: we had an entertaining Euro 2012, Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome in the Tour de France, and the Olympics - all good stuff. Since the previous football season ended, I looked forward to each event in turn, and enjoyed each in turn, but there was something missing. The "something" was my groundhopping habit, which came to a pleasurable end at Hythe & Dibden four months ago.

Football League and Conference fixtures were released in June, so I could plan my visits to Pompey and Havant & Waterlooville respectively, but it was the FA Cup draw that I was most looking forward to. I like the fact that this random mixture of numbered balls, pulled out of a hollow see-through sphere by a pair of grinning celebrities (this does happen for the Extra-Preliminary Round draw, doesn't it?), can send me anywhere, so long as "anywhere" is in Hampshire and I haven't previously been there...

A pitch-side wedding marquee, weighed down by velveteen bar chairs.
New Milton Town FC (0) 0 v 2 (2) Newport (IW) FC
FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round
Saturday August 11th 2012
Attendance: 40-ish
Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Colours: Blue and red stripes / blue / blue v Yellow / green / yellow
Club shop : No
National Grid reference: SZ2394

A sad old rusty turnstile at New Milton Town.
The draw gave me five matches to choose from: Hayling United v Fareham Town; Alton Town v Bradford Town; Ringwood Town v Cadbury Heath; Fleet Spurs v Totton & Eling; and this one at New Milton. I chose Fleet Spurs v Totton & Eling, as firstly, it would be an encounter between two teams at different steps, with the lower-ranked team being at home; and secondly, it would have been the first time that I would have featured either side on this blog - two of only eight clubs that I'd not yet seen (home or away). Ideal.

Unfortunately, whilst checking Totton & Eling's website the evening before for titbits of useful information, it became apparent that the match had been switched from Fleet Spurs to T & E's ground. Dilemma.

You see, I had read up on every piece of information I could find on Fleet Spurs over the previous five weeks. If you saw me with my head buried in a book, it was probably The Bumper Book of Non-League Football or somesuch, searching the smallprint for information on the club. If I was on the internet, I'd be reading and re-reading anything Fleet Spurs related. If I spoke to anyone at work, I would bore them with facts on Fleet Spurs' origins, Wessex League history, directions to the ground...

People started avoiding me.

The late change of venue threw all this meticulous preparation into a wobble. I had to either visit Totton & Eling or choose another match.

Newport hit the post with New Milton's tiger-striped keeper beaten.
As a post-match family barbecue on the nearby beach at Milford-on-Sea appealed, I decided to visit New Milton Town instead. With no club website, it's difficult to find much information online about the club, barring Wikipedia. However, I wrote about their merger with AFC Lymington on a previous occasion.

Unlike Fleet Spurs, I'm not an expert on New Milton. What I do know is that the club were once ambitious and, like Curtis Mayfield, tried to move on up, but lack of support did for them. The signs of old ambition are all around the ground: the rusty old turnstile and the overgrown exit gate, which would both have been ground-grading requirements at a higher level.

I suppose both New Milton Town and Newport (IW) could be considered as two of the Wessex League's fallen giants (or, more optimistically, sleeping giants), as the Isle of Wight club also played at a higher level for a while. They even played the Welsh Newport in the Southern League for a rare clash between two clubs of the same name from different locations (so rare that I can't think of any other examples - Bury Town v Bury in the FA Cup would be a similar example if it ever happened).

Crystal Palace v Norwich City?
So, I'm not an expert on the football club, nor even the town of New Milton. What I do know is that if you cross the Chewton Bunny into nearby Dorset, you can see the best High Street in Britain for the over-eighties. Everything you could ever wish for can be found in Highcliffe's shopping area: a hearing aid centre, a mobility scooter shop (we call them Mario Karts in this house), a fireplace emporium, at least two funeral directors... The whole area to the east of Bournemouth has the highest proportion of over-eighties in the country, according to the latest census results.

The other thing you need to know about New Milton is that it has a splendid water tower, as featured on the club badge.

Oh, and the residents of nearby Milford-on-Sea don't like their new steps.

Coming out for the second half.
The match itself was a hard-fought, wind affected cup tie. There's no Isle of Wight opposite the seaside here to act as a friendly windcatcher, as it does a few miles to the west in tranquil Lymington. The wind was blowing straight off the sea and into the far goal. The home side's tiger-striped keeper would have felt quite sand-blasted in the first half, with the New Milton Mistral full on in his face.

Newport's first goal after 15 minutes just took off, the ball's trajectory being quite banana-like, swerving along a perfect curve from Alex Przespolewski's right boot into the top right corner of the goal, just like I always tried to do when practicing Subbuteo shooting with the five-hole target board in place (never could manage that!). Having failed to hit a ball through any of the upper target holes, ever, I can appreciate what a difficult skill that is.

Goal two, from the same player, sizzled along the grass, leaving a trail of smoke behind as it bazoomed into the bottom right corner. The world's best goalkeepers would have struggled to stop either shot.

In the crowd of forty or so, there were at least six people (including myself) taking photos. I know what I do with my better efforts (they go on here), and I have found some on Newport's website. Where are all the others? New Milton have no website and no pictures in their programme, so unless one of the photographers was from the local newspaper, the whereabouts of the other three sets of pics may remain a mystery.
New Milton Town's press box.
My children used to believe that fierce creatures lived in those dark green cabinets that you see as you walk along the street - they're full of wires - you can see into them sometimes if bad kids have broken the lock and left a door open. I assume they belong to one of the utility companies - I'm guessing they're something to do with telephones. Anyway, these fierce monsters were called boggan-boggans, and you had to be very careful when passing these cabinets, in case a boggan-boggan leapt out and attacked you...

New Milton could have done with a bit of boggan-boggan aggression in the second half, as Newport carried on winning every 50/50 ball and having more shots than the hosts, hitting the post with one early on.

The home manager made a substitution ten minutes into the half, bringing on Simon De'ath. Now, having seen Romsey Town several times last season, I know what a good player he is at this level. One goal on a misty October evening against Fawley stood out, when he languidly brought a high pass down forty yards from goal, controlled the ball with his thigh, and then volleyed it in off a post with the poor keeper flapping at a passing moth - he was definitely flapping at something else, because he was nowhere near the ball. Romsey Town's answer to Matthew Le Tissier is now New Milton's slow-moving maestro.

However, despite having more efforts on goal with De'ath (and several other ex-Romsey players) on the pitch, the home side never looked like getting two goals back against their stronger opponents from across The Solent.

No FA Cup run, no kudos, no prize money for New Milton Town this season. It's the league, league cup and FA Vase left for them as the 'Port travel to Moneyfields for the next round of the FA Cup next Saturday.

There's no way out from Fawcett's Field!
Did I mention a barbecue on the beach earlier? The New Milton Mistral put paid to that! I lit the disposable barbecue, waited for the flames to die down (as per instructions) and placed some sausages on the rack. An hour later, with the sausages having merely dried out, it was decided to go home to the trusty grill and finish them off with some fried onions and a glass of beer or two.

So, the FA Cup has started! I'm not sure if I'll be at a match in the next round, but if I am, you'll be the first to know! Promise!

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