|The Canotec Stadium, Long Lane. Home of Ringwood Town FC.|
Passing from right to left along the V-shaped formation, honking with delight as they anticipated the climax, they flew up the pitch with masculine grace towards their goal - the goal. Rugby union apologists would have recognised this move - the backs streaming forward, passing the ball along the line until the fleet-footed winger receives the final pass, sidesteps a pair of lumbering, bescarred man-mountains and flings himself over the goal line with a magician's flourish.
So it was that Ringwood's young substitute, Charlie Heggan, received the final pass. He composed himself for a moment, then chipped the advancing keeper. The ball perforated the goal net like a triumphant goose spermatozoa penetrating a female's egg.
|Bicycle in sepia pay hut. Arty!|
Ringwood Town FC (2) 4 v 0 (0) Hythe & Dibden FC
Saturday 10th November 2012
Sydenham's Wessex League Division One
Attendance: About 35
Programme: Not today, broken printer. Free teamsheets handed out instead.
Club shop: No
Colours: All red v Green / white / white
National Grid reference: SU1503
|A side view of Ringwood Town's stand.|
See also that mouldy box of seven-inch singles in your attic...once desired, treasured for a week or two, forgotten about a year later. This must be how a lot of non-league football clubs are perceived. Your local Wessex League club can become that unloved packet of bulgar wheat so easily. Ringwood Town must feel like that sometimes when only 20 or 30 people turn up to watch them on a Saturday. It wasn't always like this...
According to Norman Gannaway in his book "Association Football in Hampshire until 1914", there has been football played in Ringwood since 1860. Initially, players played informal games amongst themselves. The first recognised clubs in the area were formed in the late 1860s, nearby Fordingbridge Turks being officially Hampshire's oldest. The first club in Ringwood was Ringwood Hornets. I can see them now, impressively-moustached men in black and yellow stripy shirts, billowing white knickerbockers and tassled caps, fresh from a bracing run and several bouts of manly boxing, tossing a pre-match coin to decide whether the Association or Rugby rules would be adhered to.
Early opponents included Portsmouth Sunflowers, Bournemouth Rovers, and - my favourite - Total Abstinence of Basingstoke (no, I didn't make them up!). Bournemouth Rovers (now Poppies) were big local rivals in the early days of Hampshire football - they met in the first Hampshire Cup Final in 1885 (Rovers winning 1-0 by dint of a hotly-disputed goal). According to William Pickford, the Hornets "put six or seven forwards across the front line...they were the hardest team to flatten out".
Gradually, the Hornets (now Town) faded into star anise-like obscurity, spending most of their existence in the lower divisions of the Hampshire League, hidden away behind the much-used cereals and jams of the likes of AFC Bournemouth and Saints.
|The stile council. The view from the allotments behind Ringwood's ground.|
The two clubs' committees, high up on the clubhouse stage, had only just finished their teas, served up in Ringwood Town's very best patterned china - cups with thimble handles and saucers to catch the drips. Biscuits too. A glass of cider for those on the committees who preferred something stronger. A crinkled old leather lounger available for those who needed to rest their weary limbs.
The rest of us could choose between a large mug of milky tea from the hatch on the left, or a cold bottle of lager from the bar on the right. The barman dug out two lovely bottles of Ringwood Best especially for a pair of long-distance travellers. It's what football clubs should be like everywhere.
I don't remember how the ball reached the Ringwood Town player 25 yards out from goal. I don't remember who it was that scored, but what I do remember is the ball nestling in the stanchion for a second before dropping over the line. I remember the arc, the perfect curve between football boot and destination. The speed and the distance travelled. Scientists could calculate the ball's velocity or the pull of gravity to the nth degree of mathematical arcania. I just remember the beauty of it all beneath the setting sun.
|Waterloo sunset. Free-kick for Ringwood Town..|
Hythe & Dibden had attacked with verve and style throughout the first half. Consider this: I've seen them play four times now - they have scored three and conceded nineteen in those games (Horndean 1-3; Brockenhurst 2-6 and 0-6; Ringwood Town 0-4). They finished bottom of the Wessex League last season - this time around, they're bottom of the league again with one win all season. In the previous three matches, their defenders behaved as if they were required to stay two chevrons apart from the opposition forward line at all times. However, what's safe on the motorway is parlous on the football pitch.
This time, despite the four goals against, they were much improved, especially going forward. Well, until it came to scoring goals. A penalty saved, woodwork tickled, numerous other attempts, none of which bothered the statisticians. Hence the relief for Ringwood when the ball was hesitantly cleared from an all-arms-and-legs penalty box scramble just before half-time. Straight to a man in a scarlet shirt twenty yards from goal. Straight back into the net through the jumbled jungle of limbs and torsos.
Ringwood were chuffed, as you can see from the celebrations in the photo below. The Hythe & Dibden player on the right was quite plainly gutted. All this effort...for nothing.
|Celebrating Ringwood's second goal with a raucous bundle.|
The club used to play near to the town centre at Carver's Field. A short investigation reveals that when the sun goes down, this recreation ground - much like a thousand others, all over the country - becomes inhabited with slappers and kevs (a kev being someone who appears to have been struck in the face by a burning welly, apparently). No wonder they felt they had to move.
It isn't immediately clear when the move occurred - some time around the late 1960s or early 1970s, but Ringwood Town are now well-established at the Canotec (a printing solutions company) on Long Lane. The visitor will find a homemade stand and dugouts, photographed here by David Bauckham in 2004. The brick-built stand offers poor viewing partly due to the six white wooden poles holding up the roof, and partly from a blood-red floodlight pole directly in front of the three rows of wooden benches. However, I don't care - it has character and it would keep the crowd dry if it rains.
The most interesting structure is the double dugout building (joined together in the middle since the Pyramid Passion photo), created from whitewashed breezeblocks and corrugated iron. Built by skilled artisans, on a matchday it's filled with yelling coaches, keen young physios with first aid kits and sponges, and two gaggles of unused subs, feet up on the wooden frame in front, surveying the gaffer intently, waiting for their time to shine on the pitch.
|All day and all of the night. Ringwood's homemade dugouts from behind.|
Ringwood's winger barged past a Hythe defender with the aggressive demeanour of an over-wound Battling Top. Whether the Hythe defence stopped because they thought there had been a foul, or because they thought the ball had crossed the dead-ball line, I don't know, but stop and wave to the ref is what they did. Whilst they were hesitating, the ball came to a Ringwood forward ten yards out, who appeared to mishit his shot into the bottom-right corner. I say mishit, because it arced in like a tiddlywink. He may have meant it that way, but it looked like a scuffer from the stand.
|Thank you for the days. Ringwood's stand post-match. Also: red floodlight pole!|
A grand day out at another friendly club, and yet another that I'd quite happily return to.
The next report should be in a fortnight or so.