Wednesday, 12 December 2012

32. Sholing FC

The sign by the turnstiles at Sholing FC.
I once knew a boy who had an A4 hand-drawn poster stuck to his wall, which detailed all the most mysterious episodes which had thus far occurred in his life. In his barely-formed, cuboid child's writing, he had titled it "Strange Happernings", double-underlined, and followed this with an illustrated list:

The number one strange happerning was the Transit of Venus, which had somehow captured his imagination, but closer to home was the mystery of the missing Mars Bar Big (it turned up eventually - it had fallen down the back of his chest-of-drawers); then came the mystery of the night light which kept on working despite the fact the batteries had been turned around within the casing (or was it the mystery of the somersaulting batteries which enthralled him?); and then, most spookily of all, the mystery of the can which fell off the shelf in the supermarket - despite there being no-one near it at the time!

On Saturday, I discovered a new strange happerning for him - the mystery of Tiverton Town's first goal. But I'll come to that later...

The old Vosper Thornycroft Pigeon Club building resides within Sholing's Silverlake Arena stadium.
Sholing FC (2) 2 v 2 (0) Tiverton Town FC
Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South and West
Saturday 8th December 2012
Attendance: 56 (or "few" as they would have printed in the paper in 1919)
Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Club shop: There may be items for sale in the clubhouse - I didn't go in. Various items are advertised on their website and in their programme as "for sale in the megastore".
Colours: Red and white stripes / black / red v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU4610

Intimidating balloons between the dugouts at Sholing.
Well, after two postponed matches in a row, I couldn't keep my eyes away from the weather forecast all last week. From the moment that Saturday's outlook first appeared early in the working week (sunshine was predicted), I returned to the BBC's local forecast at hourly intervals during every one of my waking hours. For the entire week, Saturday in Southampton was predicted to be relatively warm and sunny. Frost-free, rain-free, perfect football weather. I'd seen this before though for the previous weekend - when it came to the day itself, it was colder and cloudier, but still pleasant enough for December (I still don't know why the match at my intended destination, Hayling United, was called off last Saturday). I was as nervous as a piglet in a pork factory.

I was going to see the only team in Southampton who play in red and white stripes. Of course, this would have been Saints in just about every season ever since football began, but not this year, with the professional side playing in an old Liverpool kit for reasons best known to their marketing team. Semi-pro Sholing are the city's only stripy club now. They've been wearing these colours since changing their name from VT FC three years ago, presumably to attract Saints fans fed up with the professional game's excesses. It would save them having to buy a new bar scarf and bobble hat, anyway.

A side-on view of the seated area at Sholing.
Sholing FC have only been in existence as such since 2010, but their roots go back much further - to 1884, to be precise. The original Thornycrofts works team had a large number of Scots playing for them who worked at the shipyard in Woolston. This version of the club reached the First Round of the FA Cup in January 1920 as a Hampshire League side, drawing 0-0 with First Division Burnley at Fratton Park (they lost the replay 5-0).

The following season, they joined the Southern League when the original league became the Football League Third Division. They lasted one season, finishing bottom with four wins from 24 games - most of the league was made up of reserve sides of the clubs who had just joined the Football League, such as Pompey and Saints. AFC Bournemouth's predecessors, Boscombe, finished fifth that year.

The only other information I can find about this version of the club is that they played in the South Hants War League during 1917/18/19. Their results against Pompey (taken from Mike Neasom's statistical record of Pompey) were reasonably impressive, winning two, drawing four and losing five of their eleven matches. Crowds at Woolston were non-specific, ranging from "few" to "large" - 1500 being the only number in print.

Thornycrofts (Woolston) FC folded in 1952, but reformed in 1960. This new club became VT FC, and it was under this name that they were promoted to the Southern League in 2009. However, the following year, their parent company moved and they had to rename themselves. They chose Sholing FC after the area that they play in (changing their colours from yellow and blue to the current stripes). The name still causes some confusion, as I was asked if I meant "Sholing Sports" when I mentioned I was going there last week - Sholing Sports were the well-established local team who folded around twenty years ago when their ground was sold for housing - they came back a few years ago as a Southampton Senior League side, but have since disbanded again.

So, Sholing FC haven't quite established themselves in the local consciousness just yet, but I'm sure with a bit more exposure they will do so soon.

Behind the home dugout.
Cuts are everywhere these days. Whether it's cuts to Southampton council workers' wages, cuts to disability benefits, or millionaires' tax cuts, you can't avoid them. I've no idea whether Sholing have made cuts to their playing budget this season - they do seem to have kept most of last season's play-off-reaching high performers. What has been cut is their position in the league. After five successive seasons when they have finished no lower than fourth in whichever division they've been in, they are unexpectedly in a relegation position.

In tandem with the disappointing league position has come a cut in attendances. Saturday's must have been their lowest league crowd in all the time they've been in the Southern League. They generally pull in around 120, but only half that turned up for the Tiverton game. Christmas shopping and general seasonal money-saving must have played some part in Saturday's low turnout. I would have said that Saints being at home may have affected the attendance, but Row Z begs to differ in his recent analysis of non-league crowds. Perhaps the FA Vase match at nearby GE Hamble took a few local floating non-league fans away from the Silverlake Stadium?

An aerial battle between Lee Wort and a Tivvy defender. Thornhill's high-rise flats in the background.
Anyway, the fans that did turn out made a bit of noise, with long, low repeated growls of "Sho-o-o-ling, Sho-o-o-ling!" being heard from time to time in the first half. The two or three carloads of Tiverton fans were much quieter, but they had cause to be as their team went 1-0 down in the first minute.

A free-kick floated in from the right evaded the whole Tivvy defence. Lurking on the left beyond the six-yard area was ex-GE Hamble midfielder Lewis Fennemore, who side-footed the ball back at a precise angle (48 degrees) beneath the Tivvy keeper's dive.

The rest of the first half was scrappier than a Scrappy-Doo convention (although of a higher quality of scrappiness than a scrappy Wessex League game - still scrappy, but in HD). There were a few shots and saves, but not until the last minute of the half, as a cloud shaped like a fiery axolotl passed overhead, was there another goal. A Sholing player headed down towards the goal, the Tivvy keeper made a decent save, but the ball rebounded straight to another ex-GE Hamble player, Jamie Musselwhite, who nudged the ball over the line with the precision of a top bar billiards player. 2-0.

We were treated to some unusual half-time scores over the tannoy - we had the expected Premiership and Football League scores, but we also had the Polish Ekstraklasa and Irish Premier League scores read out as well - all mispronounced, but never mind, it's always nice to know how Pogon Szczecin and Dungannon Swifts are getting on.

I just really liked this cloud! It looks like a legless axolotl.
The second half was action-packed. If Action Man had invited Action Girl out for a hot date, they would have struggled to produce more action than Sholing and Tivvy. I'll condense all this excitement down in to four main bullet points for you:

1. The Strange Happerning!
  • Tiverton's first goal was extraordinary - Transit of Venus extraordinary. The ball flew in at waist height from the right. Tivvy's top scorer Joe Bushin, near the penalty spot with his back to goal, back-heel volleyed the ball over Sholing's flabbergasted net custodian Matt Brown. It dropped beneath the crossbar and produced a metallic ping as it hit the fence behind the goal netting. Everyone was as silent as the planes flying in to Eastleigh Airport in the distance. Silent, except for the sound of our collective jaws clanging on the ground, cartoon-style.

2. The Controversially Disallowed Goal!
  • Caught on the photo below, Lee Bright's headed goal was disallowed by the linesman for climbing. Sholing were not best pleased. Make up your own mind...

3. The Tiverton Jairzinho Wonder Goal!
  • Five minutes after Bullet Point 2, another superb goal by Tiverton Town. Described on Tivvy's official match report as being as good as Jairzinho's goal in the 1970 World Cup Final, but watched by 56 people as opposed to 560 million. Well, Tivvy do play in yellow, so there was some resemblance. One I'd love to see again, but no TV cameras at this match (sadface).

4. The Woodwork and After Match Handbags!
  • It was Tivvy all the way for the last 15 minutes. They nearly won in the last minute, only the post saving Sholing from a third home league defeat in a row. Then at the whistle, instead of handshakes, there was an outbreak of handbags, as they say on Match of the Day. Barry Mason was shown a red card for his part in the shenanigans, despite protesting his innocence.
With this result combined with a win for Yate Town, Sholing dropped to the bottom of the league on Saturday. However, I don't think they will be bottom for long. I've seen far worse teams than them in this league. On their second half performance, Tiverton looked good enough for promotion at the season's end.

The respective clubs' website match reports can be found here and here. Sholing's official photos can be found here, and Tivvy's here.

Sholing's disallowed goal.
I'm going to have a short break for Christmas now. You may see me at Fratton Park, Westleigh Park, or Romsey Town's By Pass Ground over the next few weeks, but I won't be writing about any of these games. The next report on here will be (weather permitting) in early January. Although I may post some photos of rollers in the meantime, you never know!

Merry Christmas!


  1. Excellent piece as usual Andrew, I'm really enjoying the blog. It's really interesting to get a picture of what's going on at the real grass roots of football. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks Dave. I've enjoyed visiting all these grounds, quite often for the first time, never knowing what I'm going to find. I'll keep it up until at least the end of this season!

  3. Love the pictures. You always seem to hear Sholing Sports talked about in hushed tones around Southampton. One of my sisters old boyfriends who was quite a handy player claimed to have played for them in his youth. From what I've been able to find they folded as their round was sold from under them. I think there's also a bit of controversy about Sholing FC assuming, or at least appearing to assume the Sholing Sports legacy when they were in fact the works team of the Vosper's yard in Woolston. As a side they've been punching above their weight which must be due to good management and the fact that they managed to keep the core of their team together for so long, but I think the legacy as a works team has meant that they have struggled to get people through the gates which creates a bit of uncertainty for the future. Personally I think they should have chosen a name like 'Woolston and Sholing' or 'Solent something-or-other' which might have broadened their appeal.

  4. I played 5-a-side football in my twenties with a lad who said he played for Sholing Sports. He told me he was paid £10 a game, which I found flabbergasting, it being around a quarter of my weekly wage at the time. Not only that, but he wasn't particularly good at football. I never actually went to watch them play, as he knew I was a Pompey fan, which would have made the experience a little dangerous for me.

    Sholing Sports played at Birch Lawn - their ground was sold for housing on the eve of a season in which they were expected to do well in the Wessex League (they may even have won it the previous season - I'll have to check...). Birch Lawn was in the middle of Sholing itself, which would have raised their profile locally.

    As for Sholing, their fortunes on the pitch have broadly mirrored those of AFC Totton on the other side of the city up until the last couple of seasons, and yet Totton's crowds have quadrupled, whereas Sholing's have barely grown at all. the position of the ground, several hundred yards outside of the urban area can't help, but I think you're right, in that they're still perceived as a works team locally - and who goes to watch a works team other than the people who work there? It could take quite a few years before they establish themselves as a separate entity from the old VT. Good luck to them anyway. I still say they're in a false position in the league from what I saw against Tiverton, however they're now 7 points adrift, which must be ringing a few alarm bells. With Winchester's purse having recently sprung a leak, the result of today's derby could be crucial come season's end.