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.


  1. Andrew , I am very much enjoying reading your blog. Good writing style.
    Which 3 grounds would you say are 'must' visits in your area and leagues ?


  2. Hi there! I was going to do a piece on my favourite grounds at the end of the season, but since you asked...

    You've already been to Gosport. If you like big old stands, then Cowes Sports should be on your list. One-sided, but what an excellent side it is! Leave the car at Southampton, catch the Red Jet to West Cowes, and it's a 15 minute walk up a steep hill. Quite an expensive trip, but it's an adventure!

    If you've not been to Bashley yet, it's your last chance this season. Not a particularly old ground, but it's in a pleasant location in the countryside just outside the Bournemouth-Poole conurbation. Home-made cakes, friendly's just a really nice place to visit. Big shame that they're moving to New Milton Town's ground next season. I'm going to pay them one last visit next Tuesday, hopefully.

    Similarly, Brockenhurst is a nice place with an interesting ground (avoid at Bank Holidays though - the traffic through the New Forest can be rather heavy). They're playing some pretty good football this season too.

    Smaller old stands can be seen at Alton Town (see above, but be quick!), Petersfield Town (built circa 1960), Whitchurch United (not sure how old that one is, but it looks knackered). I've left Petersfield until one of my last grounds to write about, as it's one of my favourites and gives me something to really look forward to at the end of the season.

    Er, that was more than three, wasn't it? Take your pick from that lot and you should be okay.

  3. Many thanks for that excellent feedback.
    I was due to go to Bashley tomorrow but have now been re-routed. Shame as was really looking forward to going there. However i will definately go to either of the last three home games.
    Petersfield was already on my 'hit list' but you have now just added three more , Alton and Brokenhurst :) and Whitchurch. So many grounds, so little time !.

    Your blog is one of my favourites. Most enjoyable, keep up the great work.


  4. Hey, no problem! I'm reading your blog regularly, particularly like the pictures!

    One thing I missed from the report above was a credit to Dave Twydell, as I nicked the history from his book, Gone But Not Forgotten, Part 17, which is available from many different booksellers online.