Thursday, 21 March 2013

Two Moves and a Name Change

Sup up, Bashley Bear!
In the absence of any match reports for the past couple of weeks, here's a little local news round-up instead.

Bashley speaker on one of their covered terraces.
Firstly, following on from Alton Town's enforced move, it appears that my fourth-favourite team, Bashley, may be moving as well. This move, however, is voluntary, due to the circumstances outlined in this link.

Executive seating at Bashley.
Not all their fans are pleased with the situation, as evidenced by the halving of their crowds since the announcement was made. The matter is being voted on at an EGM as I write, so we'll see what the outcome is very shortly. There is a Save Bashley FC group on Facebook, apparently (not being on Facebook, I'm not able to view it). Also, some chat board discussion here.

Two steps of terrace at Bashley Road.
I took the opportunity to visit Bashley Road on Tuesday evening for Bash's game against a strong Chesham United side. The ground had the air of a shop holding a closing-down sale - it felt very sad. Nothing like the vibrant, jolly club that I used to visit before my son was born. Even last season against Leamington, it still felt like a happy, lively place to watch a game of footy. Home-made cakes, a tiny club shop selling bright, colourful Bashley souvenirs, cheering, smiling fans... Tuesday night was so gloomy in comparison. However, the ground is still an atmospheric one, especially under lights, so I took a few photos to show you.

The new home of Bashley New Milton.
The club will be moving two miles to New Milton Town's council-owned ground, taking at least one stand with them, and renaming themselves as Bashley New Milton. As far as I can tell, New Milton Town will then fold, leaving a space in the Wessex League (which will be filled by Sholing, who have just resigned from the Southern League). Perhaps a new club will form to play at Bashley Road, starting again at Hampshire League level?

In the meantime, I'm going to need a new fourth-favourite team for next season.

Hythe & Dibden's Ewart Recreation Ground under floodlights...
Could it be Hythe & Dibden? They're another club on the move. Currently at the planning stage, they're due to move out of their quirky recreation ground home soon. If all goes to plan, they will be playing at the Clayfields Sports Centre in a few months.

...moving to the Clayfields Sports Centre soon.
I drove out to Clayfields yesterday lunchtime to see if anything was happening there, but the answer, unsurprisingly, was "no". No floodlights or cover or anything else been erected yet. I'll have another look over the summer...

Bus shelter at GE Hamble.
And finally in this round-up, GE Hamble are changing their name again. They're the club that change their name more often than Blackburn Rovers change their managers. According to a recent programme, they will be known as Folland Sports FC from next season. This name change comes about following "a corporate audit which raised branding issues" - astonishingly, someone was actually paid money to make this decision. In my nightmares, I can imagine being invited to one of their meetings...

Corporate Branding Architecture Manager?! And the Tory press whinge on about public sector "non-jobs"! Gah!

I'm sad to say that Romsey Town took this notice literally in their recent 7-1 defeat at GE Hamble :-(
Match reports will resume after the Easter weekend.

Friday, 8 March 2013

37. Alton Town FC

The fixture board and Save Alton Town FC poster outside the football ground.
The history of Alton Town is a long and complicated one, and it appears as though it's just about to become more complicated...

The original Alton Town were formed in 1947 and played at Anstey Park, just around the corner from their current ground. Initially, they were highly successful, winning the Hampshire League Division Three (East) title in their first season, followed immediately by the Second Division title in 1948/49. They then went on to become league runners-up on a couple of occasions before winning the Hampshire League for the only time in 1957/58. They also won the Hampshire Senior Cup in this season, thus completing the county double (they went on to win the cup for a second time in 1968/69).

Their record attendance of 2,870 was set at Anstey Park in 1956/57 for an FA Amateur Cup clash with Carshalton Athletic, one of several seasons in which the club reached at least the second round proper in this prestigious competition. The best run they had was in 1962/63, reaching the quarter-finals, losing 1-0 at Sutton United, the eventual winners.

Behind the football stand is a bowling green.
Alton Town FC (1) 4 v 0 (0) Hayling United FC
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Saturday 2nd March 2013
Attendance: 448 (the highest in the Wessex League this season, by quite some distance)
Admission: £3 (usually £6)
Programme: £1
Colours: White / black / black v Yellow / blue / blue
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SU7240

This is Mike, Alton Town's best-known fan, with his companion, Sylvester.
Alton Town entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1950. They beat Hamworthy and Blandford United, both by 9-0, before losing to Dorchester Town in the third qualifying round. They reached the same stage of the competition on a couple of other occasions, before surpassing this achievement in 1972/73 by reaching the first round proper for the only time, when they travelled to Fourth Division Newport County, who overwhelmed them 5-1.

The club started to decline at the beginning of the 1980s, ending up right at the bottom of the Hampshire League for two seasons in the mid-80s. Then there was a slight upturn in their fortunes, but with financial woes biting away at their ankles like a lettuce-starved tortoise, they decided to merge with the nearby works team of Bass (Alton) FC in 1991, leaving Anstey Park at this point and moving to the brewery side's ground, where they have remained ever since.

The works team were founded in 1928 as Courages & Co Alton. They flitted in and out of the Hampshire League over the years, but were never terribly successful. The current stand at the brewery ground was built around 1960 and is one of my favourite structures in the Wessex League. Old, superficially dilapidated, but lovable (sorry, I was just describing myself for a second there...).

Anyway, the merged club was initially known as Alton Town Bass, but after a couple more minuscule name changes, they eventually ended up as plain and simple Alton Town again. The old ground is still in existence, and is now used by junior club Alton United of the Aldershot & District League.

Inside Alton Town's old stand.
So, the current incarnation of Alton Town have been playing at the brewery ground since 1991, with its history as a multi-sports facility (cricket, bowls, tennis) stretching back a lot further. In 1935, the then-owners placed a covenant on the ground to protect it from being sold by any future owners for anything other than recreational purposes. The only exception to this was a strip of land at the roadside, on which would be allowed the construction of ten residential properties. All subsequent owners have respected the wishes of the covenant, as you would expect.

This is until the last few years, when the multinational brewing giant Molson Coors bought the local brewery. They have since attempted to sell the entire land parcel both for housing (180 of them) and a supermarket. As you can imagine, this has gone down like a horsemeat pie with the nearby residents, who would much prefer the green open space of the sports ground on their doorsteps to a concreted monument to greed. All planning applications up until now have been turned down.

Thus, the American-Canadian brewing monolith (whose brands include Carling, Heineken, Grolsch, Worthington, Doom Bar, amongst many others) haven't gotten their own way so far. So, a couple of months ago, they served Alton Town FC with a notice of eviction, to come into force at the end of this football season (it was going to be immediate eviction until someone pointed out to them how much of a PR disaster that would be, as if it isn't enough of one with the new plan), despite them having no fresh plans in existence to build on the site. To the outsider, their intention appears to be to let the ground go to waste. Threatening redundancies at the local plant if they don't get their way. Pleading poverty whilst spending billions of dollars to buy the Czech StarBev brewery. Throwing toys out of prams, etc.

The full story can be read here and here.

Shaping up to take a free-kick. Wait for the ref's whistle!
448 people paid to watch Alton Town v Hayling United on Saturday. Add on the players, club officials and assorted other free entrants, and there were over 500 in the ground, creating a warm and special atmosphere.

They had a big reason to cheer after just thirty seconds, as holding midfielder Ian Humble strode forward with the ball at his feet and did what I would have done* when reaching the edge of the box - let fly with a screamer into the left-hand corner. Big cheers from the big crowd.

Two minutes later, Hayling hit the post, which was the nearest they were to come all afternoon to scoring (no two goal injury time salvo for them this time). There were more chances for the home side, despite Hayling having more possession, but at half-time it remained 1-0. The most controversial moment of the half came when the ref gave a decision against the home side, and a voice from the stand cried out "Oi, ref! Are you from Alresford?" Not something you hear every day.

During the interval, I walked around the ground taking photos. As I reached the end with the new housing, I caught the eye of a man staring intently over the fence. "Crap music they play here, don't they?" he ventured. I hadn't really noticed, but I guess it was a Now! album or something - Black Eyed Peas, Christina Aguilera, that sort of thing. "I've got a big sound system, I could put it on and blast this **** off the face of the earth. I've done it before, you know." Er, okay... He didn't carry out his threat in the end. I was pleased for Sylvester, as he seemed to be enjoying the tannoy music.

*I would have scuffed it towards the corner flag, but, you my dreams...

The old cricket pavilion which houses the changing rooms at Alton Town.
Three more goals for the large crowd to enjoy in the second half as Hayling faded. Around the hour mark, Simba Mlambo hit the post, then with the next attack, he remembered all the hip-shaking moves off of Ski Sunday, as he slalomed his way through the opposition defence before knocking the ball beyond the keeper's flailing grasp. I believe this shimmying move was captured on these photographs.

Rampant Alton then scored twice more towards the end of the game through their substitute, Ryan Ayling (sponsored by Sandra Ayling, according to the programme). A close range header, followed by a tap in after the keeper fumbled in injury time (see the photo below).

Many man-hugs were enjoyed at the final whistle by the players before they raised their arms and clapped the biggest crowd most of them had ever played in front of. Then off to the old cricket pavilion to change and to store their memories away in a special place. Not many more games left at the old ground for them now.

Goal number four is rifled home from close range to complete the perfect day for the home team.
So, what next for Alton Town? From what I've read, they are in discussions with Alton United to move back to the Anstey Road ground next season. Which sounds like the simple, obvious solution, until you work out how many teams would be using the pitch...not just the first teams, but reserves, junior sides, etc. It would probably mean that some teams would have to be displaced to let Alton Town move in. And then there is the question of installing floodlights and generally bringing the ground up to Wessex League standard, which would require planning permissions. This would most likely take months, meaning that Alton Town would not be able to remain in the Wessex League.

As for the brewery ground, well, it seems as though everyone involved would accept Molson Coors selling the strip of roadside land to build ten new houses - everyone except the owners themselves, that is. If the covenant was kept, the football club would have to move their stand, clubhouse and pitch back a few metres - hard work, but at least they'd still have a home.

After the fantastic, life-affirming show of support for the club last Saturday, I believe they have some hope in their unequal battle. Good luck to them, they're certainly going to need it.

The terrace at Alton United's ground.
Apologies for the lateness of this report. I was working away from home in Manchester this week, where I was able to watch Droylsden v Altrincham in the Conference North on Tuesday evening. Crowd figure for this local derby, three levels above Alton Town? Just 258. Man U v Real Madrid on the box = Disastrous attendance for Droylsden, yet another club struggling to survive. The Champions League has a lot to answer for. More wealth for the wealthy at the expense of the small and skint, accurately reflecting the world at large.

Enough ranting. Four more reports to follow between now and the end of the season.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Saving Alton Town

The Save Alton Town FC poster, pinned to a fence outside the ground.
I was at Alton Town on Saturday for their match against Hayling United - normally, a run of the mill Wessex League fixture, but this time it was a special occasion. With the club being threatened with eviction at the end of the season by their landlords, the multinational brewing corporation Molson Coors, a section of their fans had designated Saturday 2nd March 2013 as "Save Alton Town Day". They were calling on local people and football fans from far and wide to come and support them for the day, to prove to the ground's owners that they are an essential part of the local community.

It worked brilliantly, with 448 people turning up to show their support for the club in its hour of need. To put this figure in perspective, there were more people at Alton Town on Saturday than there were at neighbours Farnborough and Basingstoke Town (whose league, the Conference South, is at the second-highest level of non-league football in England). The attendance even outstripped one at Conference National level. A superb effort.

I shall be writing what passes for a match report in due course, but it won't appear until the end of the week, as I'm working away from home without internet access for a few days. In the meantime, here's a few photos from the match for you.

A big crowd at Alton Town v Hayling United on Saturday.
Alton Town's stand looks rickety from the side, but is solid enough on the inside where it really counts.
Sylvester cheering the lads on.
Simba Mlambo speeding down the wing.
The sun shines on the old stand at half-time.
Mlambo battles for a high ball with two Hayling defenders.
A curious storage tank occupies one corner of the ground.