|All visitors welcome at Alresford Town FC. They've even made a dugout for the lucky few!|
So then, Alresford, what do we know about you? We know that you are the watercress capital of Hampshire, if not the entire world (although Huntsville Alabama would undoubtedly argue their case very strongly if this mousemat is anything to go by). Extensive cress beds border the town to the north. You occasionally glimpse them as you walk along the banks of the River Itchen.
Named after the local produce is train-lovers' heaven The Watercress Line, the steam railway running between Alresford and Alton. Some people would argue that trainspotters and groundhoppers have a lot in common - ticking off train numbers and football grounds being similar activities. Both keep detailed records of statistics that are both meaningless and exceedingly boring to everyone other than themselves. So, now is probably not the time to tell you that I have watched football at 77 different grounds in my lifetime (34 league; 43 non-league). Neither do you want to know that I have seen 125 goals in the 34 matches that I've covered so far in Hopping Around Hampshire (not including the occasional "extra" matches that I write about), which is an average of 3.67 goals per game.
I could go on.
Anyway, Alresford is certainly the place to live for any steam enthusiast who enjoys a hot, peppery salad!
|Alresford Town's clubhouse, featuring first floor viewing platform.|
Alresford Town FC (2) 5 v 0 (0) Fawley AFC
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Saturday 2nd February 2013
Programme: £1 (good, plenty to read)
Club shop: No
Colours: Black and white stripes / black / black v Dark blue and light blue / dark blue / light blue
National Grid reference: SU5832 (more steam trains than you can shake a stick at)
|From the platform...preparing to enter the fray at five to three.|
The original Crap Towns book featured a disproportionate amount of settlements around these parts, with Hayling Island ("the final destination of choice for wealthy people waiting to die"), Portsmouth ("a good place to sail out of"), Winchester ("priggish complacency") and Basingstoke ("large and offensive") all also featuring in the top 50. I know, you're thinking "What? No [insert your least favourite place here]?" So unfair, on so many levels.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Alresford actually seems quite pleasant to the passing visitor (me). No chain stores (barring a Tesco Local and a Pizza Express, but they're cunningly disguised as olde worldey shoppes), no 99p shops, only one charity shop....it's an alien world to those of us that are used to Shirley or [insert your own example of more typical British high streets here].
|Goalmouth action in front of a spinney on the South Downs.|
The ground is dominated by Alresford Recreation Centre, a large building which houses the club's dressing rooms and a bar, amongst other things. There is a balcony outside the bar upon which spectators can either sit (there must be around a hundred black plastic seats up there) or stand and watch the match.
Beneath the balcony, there are three long wooden benches, sheltered from any rain. The wind, however, coming from the north on Saturday, was a little more difficult to avoid. One poor little girl was completely wrapped up in a pink raincoat, curled up in a hedgehog-style ball on one of the benches, shivering and quivering with extreme cold. Possibly there to watch her daddy play football, I'm sure she would have preferred to be anywhere but here...
Along from the building, there is an entrance/tea hut in a brown shed, which is in turn behind the two wooden dugouts. More green mesh separates the ground from the surrounding areas, both by the tea hut and behind the goal to the left. In a corner at the far end of the ground is the groundsman's brick-built shed, containing his white line painting equipment and a large silver roller (spattered with just a little rust).
The far side of the ground (the cricket pitch side) is out of bounds to paying spectators, making Arlesbury Park a three-sided ground. However, plenty of cheeky dog walkers stopped by for a quick free peek through the mesh during the match.
|From the outside, looking in...|
Until now! I don't know what's changed (the signing of players from last season's Hampshire League champions Liphook United has probably helped), but a victory on Saturday could have put the club top of the league for the first time in their short Wessex League history. Not only that, but they will be playing in the Wessex League Cup Final at the end of the season; and they've reached the quarter-finals of the Hampshire Senior Cup, with a home tie against GE Hamble coming up...
They're having a fine old time right now.
|Alresford Town hit the bar towards the end of the first half.|
Eventually, a low ball was funnelled through from Alresford's midfield - Fawley's keeper left his station, went loco out of his box and failed to see the warning lights as one of his defenders tracked back to cut out the danger. They collided, and Alresford's Zach Glasspool steamed in to pick up the loose ball and guided it in to the empty net from the edge of the box.
This gave the home side a good platform to build on, and other than a short period at the start of the second half when Fawley must have had their fire stoked by a rousing half-time team talk, from then on it was like watching a race between a Japanese bullet train and Thomas the Tank Engine. Alresford railroaded their visitors in to submission with a metronomic inevitability.
The second goal, after 42 minutes, was just the ticket for Alresford's Suharl Odeh as he slid the ball in from close range. The home team then rattled the bar (see above) just before the ref signalled for half-time.
|Behind the other goal: Alresford Town's fourth, scored by Ashley Ledger.|
Fawley ran out of steam in the second half. Shortly after hitting the underside of the crossbar, they fell three behind from a magnificent header by Glasspool - the culmination of a top quality move where the ball had been switched from one side of the pitch to the other in the build up. He gauged his run from the sidings brilliantly to connect powerfully with the ball and cause the net to billow like smoke from the London and North East Railway's famous Mallard on its record-breaking run near Grantham in 1938.
The fourth goal was caught on camera (above - I'm sure the striker saw me taking photos and aimed for me! It made an effective shot anyway against the backdrop of the watery, winterly setting sun). Fawley's defence dropped their guard as a low level cross came in from the left, was dummied by Glasspool and reached Ashley Ledger, who swivelled as though he was on a well-oiled turntable and hammered the ball left-footed past the stranded keeper.
Two minutes later and Glasspool scored the fifth (for his hat-trick) with the best goal of the game - a curler from a point on the right side of the penalty box. Watching Match of the Day later, I made a mental note of all the players that were deemed "unplayable" in the Premiership that day - Aston Villa's Christian Benteke being the only one. I'd like to add Zach Glasspool to that rather tiny list - Fawley found him impossible to stop - even if they'd tied him up at half-time, locked him in a big metal container and sent him packing off to Inverness on an overnight freight train, he would have broken out before the engine had even set off, flown back with his superhero cape fluttering behind him and still scored his two magnificent second half goals. Unplayable indeed.
The 5-0 victory, combined with dropped points for rivals Downton and Christchurch, meant that Alresford Town tunnelled out from the Wessex League's underground and topped the Premier League table on Saturday night for the very first time. I'm sure they were well chuffed.
Alresford's well-written official match report can be found here.
|The ladder used by a club official to retrieve errant footballs from a neighbouring field.|
Okay, one more statistic to bore you with before I go: the last time I saw a 4-0 followed by a 5-0, the next match I wrote about finished 4-5. Here's hoping!
Oh, and by the way, thanks to my workmates George and Richard for the help with all the railway wordplay (we quickly realised that watercress puns were a non-starter). I hope they're well-stoked with their efforts.