Wednesday, 31 October 2012

30. Fleet Spurs FC

Fleet Spurs FC play at Southwood in Farnborough.
Teaching your pet an Olympic discipline, part one: Cat Dressage.

Step one: Find your cat (probably asleep in a cardboard box somewhere).

Step two: Loosely tie a ribbon around each paw. Stroke your cat and whisper sweet nothings in its ear whilst doing this. It will not suspect a thing!

Step three: When the cat stands up, gently tug on a ribbon to lift up a paw. Repeat this step for each paw.

Step four: Play some rousing marching music on the stereo. Lift each paw in time to the music. Admire your prancing kitty. Repeat this step for at least five minutes a day for a fortnight.

Eventually your cat will want to prance by itself. Teach it to prance sideways by waving a piece of cod to its left...then to its right. Reward your cat with neck tickles and Sheba. Hope that Cat Dressage will replace Horse Dressage at the next Olympics. Dream of bringing back a gold medal from Rio. You and your cat invited to the garden parties of the rich and famous...

A big golden crisp at the Olympic Park.
Fleet Spurs FC (1) 2 v 3 (0) Stockbridge FC
Saturday 27th October 2012.
Sydenham's Wessex League Division One.
Entrance: £5 (included free sticker!)
Programme: Free with entry
Attendance: Officially only 2, but 18 counted
Club shop: No
Colours: Dark blue / Red / Dark blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU8355

Seats in front of the pavilion at Fleet Spurs. The cover above here made me happy when it rained.
Daydreaming about this alternative Pet Olympics just now reminded me about how marvellous the real thing was this past summer. I was lucky in the ticket lottery (actually, not that lucky - I realised the probable futility of applying for the popular events and planned accordingly...): volleyball at Earl's Court and hockey on the main Olympic site in East London - both sports that I'd played in the past before my body turned to mush.

Watching the female athletes of the Russian Federation, Dominican Republic, Brazil and the USA at Earl's Court, I finally realised how volleyball is meant to be played - you don't just stand around waiting for the ball to rebound off your elbow in the general direction of the opposition. No, there's more to it than that! Russia's Twin Towers (two 7ft blondes prowling by the net); the Dominican Republic's relatively tiny (6ft 2") dynamite Bethania De La Cruz De Pena; shaggy-haired samba star Sheilla (pronounced Shay-ee-la) of Brazil; and the USA's magnificent Destinee Hooker and Logan Tom showed me how to serve, block and hit with power and finesse.

So...I returned to the volleyball court after their lessons...and the ball hit me on the face, elbow, knee...same as usual. As useless as ever.

A massive defensive clearance from this Stockbridge player.
The second day out at the Olympics was on Great Britain's Super Saturday - the day that we won three gold medals in the athletics stadium. I was there for women's hockey - a tight game between New Zealand and the USA. But the main memory of that day will be the enormous crowds - not even on FA Cup final day at Wembley have I seen this many people in one place. The mass of bodies milling about like a flock of starlings at dusk from one part of the park to another, all going somewhere, mostly in the opposite direction to my group. It was just like walking between stages at Glastonbury, but surrounded by people that have had a wash recently.

I think Lassie's trying to tell us something...
From one extreme to another, and it was back to the Wessex League for me last Saturday. By studying the league website's attendance tables, I knew that Fleet Spurs have the lowest crowds in the league, averaging 8.75 so far this season, with a high of 12 and a low of 5.

As I set off from home, sun shining in the cloudless sky, I wondered why their crowds are so low (although it's all relative - the average for the whole league is only around 40-50). Is it because they were forced to move to the outskirts of Farnborough in 1998 when they were denied planning permission for floodlights at their old ground in Fleet? Perhaps they should have changed their name to Farnborough Spurs when they changed location? That may have brought in a few curious locals.

Or is it because everyone in this area supports a big club? They would rather watch Manchester United or Arsenal on the TV than come out and watch the less skilful players just across the road? Highly likely (and you can't imagine an Arsenal follower watching a team called Spurs anyway). Although, to be fair, this is the case in every town in the country.

Pondering these imponderables as I drove past Winchester, it clouded over. The chances of taking stunning photos of  the match with gorgeous shimmering Autumnal colours in the background receded.

My mind then wandered to what Row Z wrote about his visit to Hamble Club Reserves recently. In the comments section, we agreed that we felt a bit odd sometimes at clubs with very low attendances - it can sometimes be a bit like walking in to a locals' pub in the middle of nowhere. You feel as though everyone is staring at you, the stranger, even if that's usually just groundless paranoia. When a match is being watched mostly by friends, family and a couple of feckless ressies, you do occasionally feel as though you stand out a bit as a freakish oddball. I wondered if today was going to be one of those days.

The view from inside the pavilion. Condiments table in the foreground.
As it happens, the answer was "no". Despite me being one of only two paying customers at the turnstile, I was made to feel very welcome. Indeed, the fellow at the pay booth even offered me a lift to the station after the match as he recognised me immediately as a groundhopper - "football fans don't need us, but we certainly need them", he told me. As we stood chatting for ten minutes and nobody else turned up (it was fifteen minutes before kick-off), I wondered why so few local people come to this friendly club on a Saturday afternoon.

The official attendance was two, but as always, there were a few more people dotted around the ground - I counted 18 in all - club officials, non-playing players, undoubtedly one or two others who had sneaked in through the clubhouse without paying. Those of us that were there were treated to a decent match between two evenly-matched sides.

Spurs took the lead after five minutes when their number 8, Chris Musgrove, wiggled his way past Stocky's midfield and let fly from the edge of the box, and like a spectacularly accurate Rocket Ronnie O'Sullivan snooker shot, the ball found its way to the bottom left hand corner of the Stockbridge net in double-quick time (if it had been a Google search, it would probably have been calculated at 0.711 seconds). If there had been a stanchion, it would have hit it. But instead of a stanchion, Fleet Spurs have those curious new goals-on-wheels - I always expect them to wheedle round when a hard shot hits them, jerking like a Subbuteo goal when you knock it sideways with your thumb whilst manoeuvring the goalie-on-a-stick too quickly. This one stayed in place though. Square wheels, obviously.

Stockbridge score the winner in Fleet Spurs' goal-on-wheels. Yes, it was raining at this point.
Spurs remained 1-0 up until seven minutes in to the second half when Stocky equalised with a header. Two minutes later, the referee awarded a free-kick to Fleet a millimetre outside the penalty box's painted line on Spurs' left. The ball was chipped in and Musgrove skimmed it in off of his fringe.

Showers fell intermittently. Then, on 75 minutes, Stockbridge equalised for the second time. A hopeful shot from 25 yards deflected off a defender and bounced over the line with Fleet's keeper laying in the mud on the other side of the goal after anticipating the shot's trajectory as it left the attacker's boot. As an ex-keeper myself for my school team, I know how he was feeling (deflated, miserable, crestfallen, forlorn, woebegone - any or all of these, or any other keyword from a Morrissey song).

This meant that with 15 minutes to go, either side could win it. The teams were evens stevens on the day, despite the homesters being much higher up the league table. Chances came, chances went - past the post or into the keeper's arms until, with five minutes left, Stocky pumped a high ball in from the left. It bobbled around like a ballbearing on a bagatelle board before falling at the feet of Mike Barker, who swivelled and shot left-footed from ten yards. The result can be seen in the photo above...more forlornness from Fleet Spurs, but elation, jubilation, exhaltation from the Stockbridge nation.

A big late October sky above Fleet Spurs. The Nokia Building in the background.
I've spotted two official match reports - one on the Wessex League website, which may well also appear on the Fleet Spurs site when it is updated - the other on Stockbridge's excellent website (one of the best sites in the league, if not the best).

More pet Olympic disciplines? How about Rabbit Triple Jump...Bunny can already hop - the skip and the jump should follow with patience. I'm sure you can think of others.

The next match report should be in two weeks, barring weather calamities or other unfortunate events.

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