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.


  1. Sounds like you had an interesting trip to the ground! It's a game I'd have like to have gone to, but various commitments have kept me grounded the past few weeks. This weekend I should make it to a game, but it will probably be a Hampshire Premier League one.

    I think the decline in the works team is a sad sign of how work and employers attitudes have changed; At a lower level there was also AC Delco, Pirelli, and Inland Revenue who all had their own works provided grounds and various teams. Employers were prepared to invest in the wellbeing of their employees, and even whole communities, as well as viewing their link with a local area as long rather than short-term.

  2. You're quite right. The only club left at Step 6 or higher in the Southampton area with links to a workplace is GE Hamble. Not sure how much they're funded by the company, or if any of their employees play for the club. It would be an interesting subject to pursue further.

    The other thing with works teams is who on earth would go and watch them? Even if you worked for the company, I'm not sure you'd go and support the associated football club on a Saturday afternoon. Clubs like Vauxhall Motors in Conference North or Airbus UK in the League of Wales have relatively small crowds - who watches them? I don't know.

    I look forward to your next report. I may well go to a couple of Hampshire Premier grounds next season, so I'd love to have a feel for what they're like.

    1. Also caught out by missing boardwalk when cycling home from the Forest one evening. Rode through very slowly hoping I didn't lose my balance.
      Probably stolen by a kingfisher to make a fishing perch.

  3. A week later, I'm still picking marsh silt out from under my toenails.