Wednesday, 26 September 2012

28. Gosport Borough FC

Go Sport! Boor Hug!
Oh, September! The summer holidays are over. Children return to the fetid house of germs, also known as school. Children swap Pokemons, football cards and various lurgies. Children pass on interesting new illnesses to their poor old dads.

One poor old dad has fevered semi-sleep. Suffering, tossing, turning. Ludicrous lifelike dreams. Appears on a new, cheaply-produced programme on the specialist channel, Evostik TV - Anagram Fans. "Welcome to Anagram Fans! Each week, we give a list of football clubs to supporters of teams in the Evostik North and South Leagues. They have to produce succinct and hilarious anagrams from these football club names. The winner is the fan who scores the most on the studio audience's Rattle-ometer!

First up, representing Gosport Borough, is Andrew! Andrew, you have thirty seconds to create the best anagram you can out of your own club...Gosport Borough!"

The magnificent old stand at Gosport Borough FC.
Gosport Borough FC (2) 2 v 0 (0) Bideford AFC
Saturday 22nd September 2012
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round
Attendance: 232
Entrance: £9
Programme: £1.50
Club shop: Yes, badges £3.50. The original shop was burned down during the summer, so stock is quite limited at the moment. However, if you want scarves, beanie hats, old programmes, they're all there.
Colours: Yellow / Navy blue / Navy blue v All red.
National Grid reference: SZ5999

Jock's Tea Bar in front of the big old stand at Gosport Borough.
Thrashing and dribbling, the half-awake half-man panics. "Um, 30 seconds...gosh, er...GO, er, SPORT...BOOR HUG? No, no, that's not very good...must think of something else...GO...PORTS? Oh, lawks...GROT SOP BOG HOUR?" Time's up and GO SPORT BOOR HUG is the best he can do. Red-faced with embarrassment, he blurts out his useless anagram to the audience...

...who go wild! The Rattle-ometer (which consists of a hundred enthusiastic, bobble-hatted, bar-scarved rattle-twisters) pops up right to the top! Poor old dad, who thought his anagram made Gosport Borough sound like a particularly badly-named club from the Dutch regional leagues (definitely not as good as Go Ahead Eagles of Deventer*), wins the Anagram Fans trophy - a silver dictionary on a stick. It was almost worth the sleepless night.

*Interesting fact: Early in their history, Go Ahead had to change their name from Be Quick, by order of the Dutch FA.

Gosport Borough attack.
Back in the real world, with poor old dad having recovered from his rancid fever, Saturday was FA Cup day at Gosport Borough's Privett Park (or Palace Privett as they call it - an ironic twist on Pompey's Fortress Fratton, given that neither side have won a league match at home so far this season). Boro had won through to the match against Bideford after shenanigans aplenty in their previous match against luckless Bashley, when a corner was given instead of a goal by the match officials after Gosport's keeper had kicked the ball out through a hole in the side netting (which, incidentally, had been fixed by last Saturday!). Bashley irate; Gosport perhaps a little embarrassed, but there was nothing anyone could do as the FA didn't order a replay. The competition had to go on.

It was a fine day on the Gosport peninsula - one of those days when you believe you can reach out and shake hands with the Isle of Wight, four miles distant on the other side of The Solent. My son lost his first tooth whilst eating a packet of crisps at Gosport submarine museum a few years ago - which is the only personal anecdote I have of the town. It's not really a place that you pass through on the way to anywhere else, so I've never spent much time there.

My last visit was for Boro's match against AFC Totton, which the visitors won to gain promotion. I took a few photos of Privett Park on that occasion, but failed to take any of the colourful and eccentric Harry's Shed, reasoning that I would be coming back another time and could take a few pics then. I didn't realise that the distinctive home-made shack with garden bench would be replaced by a new stand by my next visit. You can see it here in a set of photos taken by the excellent David Bauckham.

Celebrating in front of the new Harry Mizen Stand.
The new Harry Mizen Stand is fine, but it's got nothing on Boro's superb old main stand. Built in 1937 (seven years before the club were even formed!), this is my favourite structure at any non-league ground in Hampshire. Wooden step-seats, worn down by years of agonised squirming, make their way up to the back, which is painted dark blue with the letters GOSPORT BORO spaced out in bright yellow paint along its length. At intervals, dried out ivy has tried to break in through the back, but didn't get very far. Pigeons roost in the stanchions at night - fans avoid sitting on the seats directly beneath their perches. In the middle is an old-fashioned press box, with just enough space for three reporters, their cheeseburgers and polystyrene coffee cups. In front of this is the directors box, with its slightly more comfortable seats. The whole stand has been well-maintained over the years, so I hope it lasts for many more moons yet.

To be honest, I've spent more time around the Bideford area than I have in Gosport, during a couple of North Devon holidays. Memories include watching a sheep race at The Big Sheep ("The best day of your holiday, baa none!"), and of wearing a stripy gnome hat whilst walking around the nearby Gnome Reserve ("Discover a pixie flitting over clumps of comfrey!"). Happy days!

I was present at Fratton Park in 1978 for a First Round Proper tie against Bideford. I don't remember much about it - I know Pompey won 3-1 and that there were over 10,000 people there (possibly the most ever to watch Bideford play?). Did the Devon club play in red and white stripes? Or was that Minehead the previous season? I know that Pompey were relegated to the Fourth Division that year. If I believed in omens, I probably shouldn't have watched Bideford again this season...

By the way, did you know that Pompey are only one of two of the longer-established Football League sides never to have lost to non-league opposition in the FA Cup? I think the only way that they will keep up that record this year is to avoid being drawn against one. A virtual clap on the back to anyone who can name the other lucky club.

A ticking off from the ref for this errant Bideford player.
Back to Saturday's match, and Gosport were magnificent in the first half. Ex-Pompey, Cherries and Hawks man Sammy Igoe (who I once saw at a cashpoint in Hedge End) strode around the midfield like a pocket colossus, nonchalantly setting up attack after attack with a subtle nudge here, a deft flick there, accuracy his middle name. Bideford's goalkeeper had shots raining in on him with the frequency of a meteor shower in the dying days of the dinosaurs.

For all their immense pressure, Boro didn't score until the 23rd minute, but by the bushy tail of Squirrel Nutkin, it was worth waiting for! Chisel-jawed centre-back Brett Poate controlled a loose clearance 25 yards from goal, took aim, and curled the ball around the entire Bideford defence (and one of his leaping team mates, if this photo is telling the truth), battering the ball against the inside of the left-hand post, from whence it settled up against the far side of the net. The ball may well have had a satisfied smile on its face from a job well done - the best goal I've seen so far this season, for schizz.

Goal number two (and surprisingly the last, as Boro should have won by four or five) came fifteen minutes later after Justin Bennett had wiggled past the left side of Bideford's defence with the mesmerising hip-shaking agility of a teenage Elvis, before passing to his team-mate Luke King to wallop home from three yards.

Gosport Borough's press box humming with half-time activity.
The wind changed direction at half-time, blowing in from the north. The first fingers of icy coolness of the autumn. The last time I'll be warm in a t-shirt at a match until at least next April. The chilly wind cooled Gosport's attacks down a little in a more even second half, but they still deserved their victory.

The visitors from Devon did have some chances, causing Gosport's custodian Nathan Ashmore to fly through the air like a levitating superhero for one particularly spectacular save, and then hitting the post in the second half during their only really threatening period of the game.

At one point Bideford shot in to the side netting. Of course, their fans claimed a goal, but the officials were having none of it. I suspect Gosport will be sick of this joke over the coming weeks and months.

Overhearing some Boro fans on the way out, it appeared that they wanted to play local rivals Fareham Town in the next round. However, the Creeksiders had already fallen at home to Blackfield & Langley in their tie just a few short miles to the north. Instead, Gosport will travel to Conference South Bath City in a fortnight. Two more wins and they will be in the First Round Proper.

Bideford kept their substitutes' number boards in a reusable carrier bag.
This may well have been my last FA Cup report this season, as non-football duties take precedence on the days of the next two rounds. Shame, as the early rounds of the cup are most enjoyable - the clubs involved usually give it their all, hoping for an eventual glorious glamour tie against a Football League club (or at least a big Conference club).

Newport (IW) have been the most successful of the clubs that I've featured to date, as they went on to win two more ties, before losing to Salisbury City on Saturday; Winchester City and Weymouth both lost their next matches after being featured on here. Gosport Borough will have to win away at Bath City in the Third Qualifying Round to outdo the latter pair. If they can repeat Saturday's performance, they have a chance.

Gosport Borough's official match report is here. Bideford's is here. The full set of photos from Gary Spooner on Football Grounds In Focus is here. David Bauckham's photos are here.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

27. Totton & Eling FC

A blue sky day for Totton & Eling FC in the FA Cup.
There were three items on the calendar for this weekend. Number one on the list was "Check screws on the computer chair" (this had to be done after three months of ownership, as per manufacturer's instructions). Screws duly checked and tightened a little, I was able to pretend once again that I was sitting in the Batmobile's ejector seat. Chair goes up (safely, with no loose screws)...Chair goes down...Chair goes up...Chair goes down...

Number two on the list was "Cats' Birthday (10)". Ten years of purring and miaowing. They used to fit through a doll's house door, you know. Not any more. Ten years in a cat's life is equivalent to 52 in human years (12 years for each of the cat's first two birthdays, then 4 for each subsequent birthday). It's odd having cats that are older than me, it's like having an uncle who's at infant school. In case you were wondering, they had a treat for dinner (a carton of Sheba each), otherwise it was a normal day for them (mostly moulting fur, sicking up grass and sleeping).

Then there was something else on the calendar for Saturday. Now, what was it?

AFC Totton's stand, as seen from inside Totton & Eling's ground.
Totton & Eling FC (1) 2 v 2 (1) Weymouth FC
Saturday 8th September 2012
FA Cup First Qualifying Round
Attendance: 230
Entrance: £10 (usually £6)
Programme: £1
Colours: Red and black stripes / Black / Black v Yellow / Blue / Blue
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SU3415

Action in front of the main stand. "Better ground than Thatcham", according to Weymouth fans.
Number three on the list? "Totton & Eling v Weymouth, FA Cup". Now, this was a match I'd been looking forward to, ever since Totton & Eling won their Friday night tie at GE Hamble two weeks previously. A two step difference between the two clubs, with the lower-ranked side at home. It had "potential banana skin" written all over it for the big-name club from Dorset. A sloped pitch which could prove to be a great leveller. It's what the FA Cup is all about (insert any other cup clichés here...).

I decided to make the day more interesting by walking to Totton. I predicted it would take around 90 minutes, so I set off at 1pm. Forty minutes across the Millbrook estate, over the M271, then a muddy trek across the River Test flood plain. It was interesting alright, as I disturbed a pair of little egrets yards from the end of the boardwalk which crosses the marshiest part of the area. As the egrets settled back down, I realised that the boardwalk was coming to an end - at least twenty yards short of dry land! There was no option but to take off my trainers and wade up to my knees through muddy water for the final section. Yes, interesting!

After drying off my toes in the warm sunshine, the final part of the walk was straightforward, reaching Millers Park at 2.30.

A Totton & Eling player grabs the ball one-handed during a break in play.
Totton & Eling's ground is hidden behind AFC Totton's stadium. Not only are T&E the lower-ranked of the two clubs in Totton, but their ground is also literally lower (by about a metre) than their fellow Tottonites. Millers Park is reached by following a gravel footpath behind AFC's ground and turning left before the nature reserve (to carry on the bird-spotting theme from earlier, I saw a threesome of great crested grebes floating on the nearby lake). Reading the Weymouth fans' forum before the match, someone on there thought that Millers Park was AFC's training pitch. Well, it's not. Totton & Eling are a separate club, but they must have struggled to form their own identity since they moved in.

Once upon a time, Totton & Eling were the works team of British American Tobacco, being known as BAT Sports FC between 1971 and 2007 (previous to that, they were Bramtoco FC - formed in 1925). Unfortunately, BAT pulled their funding from the club and sold their base at Southern Gardens for housing (still visible on Bing Maps).

BAT Sports were one of several well-known works teams in the Southampton area which have disappeared in the last few years. This long tradition of providing sports facilities for the workforce has been dying out for a while now, whether because the workplaces themselves have closed down or downsized, or because in the cutthroat world of business, social clubs are increasingly seen as a frippery or a luxury. Moreover, many companies would now rather buy a professional club for the free advertising that comes with ownership (see Sports Direct, Liebherr Cranes, etc).

Other than BAT, local works-affiliated clubs that have closed down or changed their names include:
  • Road Sea (Saints used their small stadium in Marchwood as their training ground/base for their reserves until demolishing it in the last few months)
  • VT FC (Vosper Thornycroft - now Sholing)
  • Esso (now Fawley AFC)
  • Ordnance Survey (now Hampshire League AFC Stoneham. Their badge contains an outline of Great Britain).

Weymouth's keeper misses the ball. Totton & Eling are just about to score from their first corner!
When the chance came to move to a new sports complex with AFC Totton, Totton & Eling decided to go. The alternative would probably have been closure. They dismantled the two stands at Southern Gardens and remantled them at Millers Park, giving the main stand a lick of green paint. The new ground is sparkling clean, neat and tidy. A strong wire mesh fence surrounds the stadium, so that you feel like you're in a cage, with the occasional passer-by (plus dog) on the footpath stopping to stare at you.

Either that, or you feel protected from the outside world - I suppose zoo animals have days when they're happy to be locked in, but sometimes they just want to join in with their visitors' fun by leaping out of their pen to enjoy the penguins' antics for a bit. I remember when I was a boy that a warthog* escaped from Marwell Zoo, which was around twenty miles from my home. The chances of the filthy, hairy tusked pig bothering me were slim. Even so, I was terrified. That week, I would have loved Totton & Eling's cage to have surrounded my bedroom at night whilst I attempted to sleep. Warthogs outside; sweet dreams inside.

*It was called The Hampshire Hog in the newspapers.

A drinks break on this hot day for these thirsty Weymouth players.
Anyway, the match itself was a cracking advert for the early rounds of the Cup. Non-league giants slumming it at the home of the winners of The Football Club Most Likely To Be Misspelled/Misspelt Award (usually as Totton & Ealing - Ealing is in London and is the home of the much-loved Ealing comedies - Passport To Pimlico, The Titfield Thunderbolt, etc. Whereas Eling is in, er, Totton).

Weymouth took the lead after 10 minutes or so with a scuffed bobbler. They looked like extending their lead for the next twenty minutes.

I played for a volleyball team which was often outclassed like Totton & Eling were at this point. Our tactic when being hammered would be to create a distraction to put our opponents off their game. Once, during a cup semi-final against a Polish team, we shouted out to them to be careful as there was a rabid squirrel in a nearby tree (in Polish - we'd translated this from English prior to the match and written it down on a scrap of paper hidden in the captain's sock). Their reaction? "Why do you want to kill the poorly squirrel?" Either the translation was wrong, or we'd pronounced the Polish badly. We lost the game.

Without any ridiculous distractions, Totton & Eling equalised with a header from their first corner. If you inspect the photo of the goal above, imagine the ball ending up just to the left of the bin (and imagine the bin containing an empty scrumpled can of Diet Coke).

FA Cup sensation! Totton & Eling go 2-1 up against the mighty Weymouth!
The game absolutely rocked during the second half. It rocked more than a Battle of the Bands competition involving Napalm Death, AC/DC and Motorhead.

The Echo's sports reporter, Wendy Gee, was in the stand. I overheard her phoning in her report as I walked out after the match finished. I distinctly heard the word "sensational". She could only have been referring to the 25-yard curling free-kick which put the home side 2-1 up.

Weymouth drew level a few minutes later from a 20-yard daisycutter. Then it was like a basketball match for the last half hour, as first one side went up the pitch and had a shot, then the other. Many glorious saves later (mostly by Totton & Eling's keeper), it was all over. 2-2 and a replay at Weymouth on Tuesday.

The announcer declared the gate to be 230. A claret-clad fan next to me interjected "yes, with 200 of those coming from Weymouth", which was only a slight exaggeration. Still, this was probably a ground record crowd. If they ever make a Wessex League set of team tabs for a non-league ladder, this crowd figure will feature under Totton & Eling's name (along with their nickname).*

*I've just had a look at some old team tabs, and only the ground address was written below the name. Memory playing tricks, as usual.

Edit: I've just checked my marvellous copy of Got, Not Got this morning and yes, Record Gates were indeed shown on team tabs - just not the ones in my old scrapbook!

The Echo's Wendy Gee phones in her report at the end of the match. Small boy prefers bench-clambering.
I didn't fancy getting my shins wet again on the way home, so I caught the number 12 bus instead. This managed to tag on to the end of Totton's carnival procession. Several mums and nans encouraged their children to wave at us as we passed by, which was nice. Of course, I waved back!

As an addendum, Totton & Eling lost the replay at Weymouth 3-0, but they will have enjoyed their big day. They should be able to buy a few more match balls with the receipts (they started the season with fourteen balls and had already lost five in the scrubby vegetation behind both goals, according to crowd rumour).

The Totton & Eling match report can be found here. Weymouth's report here. Many photos - mostly of Weymouth players here.

I hope to be at another FA Cup match on 22nd September.