Tuesday, 5 February 2013

34. Alresford Town FC

All visitors welcome at Alresford Town FC. They've even made a dugout for the lucky few!
During the week before a game, I have a little think about the club that I'm going to visit on the following Saturday. What do I know about them? What do I know about the town that they play in? I scribble down my thoughts in a scruffy notebook. Sometimes I have a lot of ideas; at other times my notebook appears as vacant as the average contestant on a Saturday evening quiz show.

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.

And 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
Attendance: 55
Admission: £6
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.
Another thing I knew about Alresford is that it appeared at number 43 in the original Idler Book of Crap Towns. A sample quote: "It's purgatory with hanging baskets", which is quite funny, admittedly, but the 43rd worst town in Britain? Really? It transpires that this is where one of the authors grew up, and so, as a teenager, had a downer on the place. My response to any teenager moaning about their boring home town is "okay, if you don't like it there, go and live in the earthquake-affected slums of Port-au-Prince without electricity or water for a year, then come back and whine about your comfortable, affluent small town life". (Which makes me sound like an annoying old git).

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 football ground occupies part of Arlesbury Park. During the winter months, a green mesh fence separates the ground from a cricket pitch on the downward slope. Beyond the cricket pitch is a rusty play area featuring a climbing frame in the shape of a cheerful four-legged spider (I hope the local children didn't pull the spider's other legs off). Beyond the playground is the alder-bordered River Itchen, from which the town gets its name (Alresford: "the river crossing by the alder trees that abound with siskins").

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...
Alresford Town have been in existence since 1898. Their programme is devoid of a list of honours, presumably because they haven't won very much throughout their history. Their last real success was winning the North Hampshire League in 1999-2000, which helped them to be promoted to the Hampshire League Division Two. From there, they climbed in to the Wessex League upon its devouring of the Hampshire League in 2004. Promoted to the top division of the Wessex League in 2006-07, they've been bumbling around the lower half of the table for the last five seasons....

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.
Saturday's visitors, Fawley AFC, were looking to derail Alresford's championship ambitions. Their aspirations remained on track for the first half hour with them having the majority of the possession and chances. The highlight in this period for me was when an Alresford shot was ballasted high over the bar and in to a neighbouring field - a club official was on hand to clamber over a ladder to collect the precious match ball. I sidled over and hung around near him, waiting for it to happen again so that I could take a photo, but my sneaky plan hit the buffers as the homesters kept their shots low and on target from then on in.

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.
Clickety clack, clickety clack, Alresford Town came down the track...

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.
Statistic time: this is the sixth time I've written about one of the three Waterside clubs (Fawley, Blackfield & Langley, Hythe & Dibden), and the sixth time that they've lost (I won't tell you the goal difference in those matches - you won't want to come back again next week...).

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.


  1. One of the more fascinating things I have discovered with the blogger is the business of Non-League Football.

    The ladder (style?)is just too much. That is awesome.

  2. First time i have seen your blog and a very enjoyable read it is to. I am looking for some new grounds to 'tick' in Hants etc so am finding your blog very useful. Thanks very much.
    Keep up the good work - i shall link you
    The Onion Bag

  3. Thank you kindly for your comments. There's another ladder at Stockbridge, used for the same purpose - I may take a photo of that next time I'm there!

    There's certainly a few decent grounds in Hampshire. You can probably tell from the photos which are the ones you'd like the best, so I won't try and sway you in any particular direction. I'll have a look at your blog when I get a spare 5 minutes!