Monday, 25 February 2013

36. Hayling United FC

Welcome to Hayling United FC.
Wasting beer is a sin. No need to say this really. Everyone knows it. So why did I pour my almost-full pint of HSB over the kid's head? I don't think he was annoying me. Did he do it to me first? Was he staring at my pint? Or did we do it because we could, because we realised that after we left college, we would never be able to do stuff like this again without ending up in the cells. The leeway of late teens. The freedom of youth?

It might have been because he was a posh kid from Hayling Island. All kids from Hayling were posh, or at least, us Leigh Park boys thought so (I know different now, but things were more black and white back then). In my days at Havant Sixth Form College, Hayling, Havant and Leigh Park would meet in the back room at either The Ship Inn or The Royal Oak in Langstone as a halfway house. Beer-wasting happened. I'm not proud of this. He wasn't a bad kid - to be honest, I never heard him speak - he was the quiet one (the dangerous one). I don't remember anything else.

It must have been a good night. One of many at eighteen.

Remember Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel's warning? White lines (don't do it). Doesn't apply to groundsmen.

Hayling United FC (0) 2 v 2 (1) Totton & Eling FC
Saturday 23rd February 2013
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 34 (headcount: exactly 0.2% of the island's 17,000 population). Official attendance given as 19.
Admission: £5
Programme: £1 (very good)
Colurs: Black and white stripes / black / black v Yellow / red / red
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SU7200

The stand at Hayling United. Two-thirds closed.
Hayling Island is flat. If you ever mislay your ironing board, take a trip down to Hayling, choose any random square yard, and I promise it will be as flat as a flounder, just right for ironing those troublesome creases. It's easy cycling terrain - just like Holland, but without the wacky baccy coffee shops. However, there's trouble with all this flatness - there's nothing to stop the winter wind blowing in from the north.

It was cold on Saturday. So cold that I may have been hallucinating. At one point, I was convinced that an Arctic fox had just wandered by, sniffing the grass for signs of hare. Five jumpers cold. Heavy, grey, sombre, bleak. Was that an iceberg floating past Mill Rythe Holiday Village? I swore I heard a stranded walrus howling with the kind of desolate forlornness that only the desperately lost and alone can muster.

During the summer months, Hayling Island is a holiday-maker's paradise. Set off early to avoid the queues stretching for miles across the bridge which connects the island to the mainland, and you are rewarded with three miles of beach, sandbars at low tide, and some of the nicest ice creams in Christendom. Mine's a liquorice, since you're asking!

A motherly penguin waddled past, her gullet full of gurgitated fish, ready to feed her baby, all fluffed up in the middle of the colony between the dugouts.

Winter. Bleak.
For the motorised visitor to Hayling United FC, parking isn't a problem, as you use Hayling College's spacious car park. Shuffling towards the playing fields at the back of the college, you see the tea room before you get to the pay hut. Tea at 80p + Mars Bar at 60p = Bargain!

The friendly fellow at the pay hut takes your five pounds entrance fee and notes you down as a paying customer in his notebook. I was number four on Saturday. Number four in a sparse crowd. They would love 1% of the inhabitants of the island to come and watch them, but even with Pompey away, no more than 0.2% turned up for the visit of Totton & Eling.

Turn right through the entrance gate and you see the stand, which is two-thirds closed with a wire mesh barrier, presumably to discourage vandals when there's no-one about. Beyond the stand is a covered standing area, past which the players trot out from the dressing rooms in the school sports hall behind the ground.

Adequate cover for a club of this size. Unfortunately, the cover is set way back from the pitch, due to the school requiring an eight lane running track on their playing fields, with this being the best place for it. Carry on round and you see a rugby pitch to the right, then several child-size football pitches surrounding HUFC's barrier-enclosed playing surface. If you made an entire circuit of the pitch, you would eventually come to a long jump/cat poo pit just before leaving the ground.

Trotting out for the second half.
Entranced by a gaggle of snow geese feeding on a neighbouring pitch, the first half hour of Saturday's match passed by without much incident. I began to wish that I'd gone to Havant & Waterlooville instead (where, coincidentally, there was the same result today with the teams scoring in the same order). Only five miles up the road. Lots of cover from the wind there.

Then Totton & Eling's Craig Feeney scored to kickstart the game. The third time I've seen T&E this season, and I'd only ever seen the speedy, skilful Feeney score for them [Edit: not true, as he only scored one in their FA Cup tie with Weymouth]. He's a nippy nipper, for sure. Up there with Alresford's "unplayable" Zach Glasspool at the top of the Wessex League's scoring charts. This one was a slider beneath the keeper's body.

1-0 was how it stayed until half-time, when a polar bear made an unwelcome appearance in the stand. I waved him away with a rolled up programme, which I then proceeded to read.

Just like watching Newcastle United v Watford!
The programme was very good, having everything the visitor could possibly need (with only the club's results thus far this season missing). I'm particularly fond of questionnaire-type pieces, so was delighted to find four in Hayling's programme - one each for the first team manager, assistant manager, coach and vice-chairman. You know the kind of thing...Date of Birth, Nickname, Best Ground Played On, Favourite Food...

If anyone ever asked me to fill one of these things in, I know I would take it far too seriously, possibly losing sleep thinking about my answers. Best just to knock it off in five minutes and be done, knowing that only a handful of people will ever read it (and they'll forget all your answers within nanoseconds). I couldn't do that.

Favourite Film? Well, I'd choose one serious movie and one comedy - how about Apocalypse Now and This Is Spinal Tap? Okay, I'll stick with that for the time being. Sleep on it.

Favourite Band? Oh, cripes! Do I choose someone that normal people have heard of, even if they're not necessarily number one in my heart? Or something that very few people have heard of and be accused of musical snobbery? Buzzcocks or The Chefs? The Undertones or Yeah Yeah Noh? Old skool or modern? The Fall or Veronica Falls? Girls At Our Best! or Girls Names? Like I said, cripes! No sleep tonight then...

The twisted spire of St Mary's Church, Hayling.
Hayling's manager Steve Poulton chose Happy Mondays as his favourite band. He must have been bummed on the hour mark, as T&E extended their lead with a goal scored by...not Craig Feeney! A tired looper from Byron Gharibian this time.

Had Hayling been suffering from lazyitis? Not at all. They just needed to step on and do it better. Twist some melons.

With 90 minutes completed, they had shaken their maracas, done their freaky dancing, but the breakthrough hadn't come. 92 minutes, still nothing. 93 minutes, a free-kick 25 yards out. Up steps Lee "Tigger" Tigwell...Back of the net! (Or, more precisely, hits the stanchion and bounces back out, but "back of the net" sounds more exciting). 1-2 - surely that was just a consolation?

94 minutes, a scramble, a header, underside of the bar, over the line? Number 2, Steven Black, makes sure! It's 2-2! The boys in black and white had come back from 0-2 down to snatch a draw with the last kick of the game! Hallelujah! Bob's your uncle!

Ice floes melt with the excitement. Penguins swim back to Antarctica via Chichester Harbour. The walrus grows a kinky afro, freaky dances to Wrote For Luck and breaks into the toothiest grin you've ever seen.

The electronic scoreboard at Hayling United (not switched on).
Ignoring the freezing temperatures, I had a nice time at Hayling. Friendly people, and the match was pretty good...especially the last two minutes!

Anyway, I don't usually let on where I'm going next, but barring illness, bad weather, etc, I'll be seeing Hayling United again next Saturday at Alton Town's big day out. I know a few people who've said that they'd like to join me at one of these matches. I'd be delighted to see any of you at Alton, as would the club themselves, who need all the support they can get in their hour of need. See you there if you can make it!

Oh...and I promise I won't tip a pint of beer over you!

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