Monday, 22 April 2013

41. Petersfield Town FC

A blue sky welcome to Petersfield Town FC.
His skill on the ball was unbelievable. His pace and vision were unnerving. His eye for goal was astonishing. We called him Mantis, as he resembled nothing less than a praying mantis in all its holy, spindly glory. He was our otherwise laconic, unflappable Chemistry teacher, all Ralph Coates comb over and thick-rimmed, milk bottle bottom glasses. Usually seen in a white lab coat, overseeing silly boys with Bunsen burners, on this occasion, he was strolling around Petersfield Town's Love Lane football ground, lording it over the Masters v Boys football match.

The hapless Jockey was there too, so-called because he had a bald patch that looked like a jockey's cap, but he couldn't trap a ball for toffee. It was Mantis that ruled the pitch, as tall and as gangly as Peter Crouch, but with a better knowledge of the Table of Elements. Was there nothing that Mantis couldn't do?

As well as me in the crowd that day, there may well have been the only boy that has gone on to be relatively well-known to the outside world: Simon Ings. I remember him wicket keeping and getting whacked in the face with a cricket ball once. There may have been a broken nose. There was certainly a lot of blood. He's moved on from this incident since.

Petersfield Town's old wooden stand.
Petersfield Town FC (2) 4 v 0 (0) Stockbridge FC
Saturday 20th April 2013
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 29 (headcount)
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Club shop: No
Colours: Red and black stripes / black / black v Blue and yellow stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7523

Inside the stand.
The Mantis match took place over thirty years ago. Not much has changed at Love Lane in the meantime, thank chuff. Everything is in place here to make it a perfectly fine Wessex League ground, safe and adequate for the usual sub-100 crowds. I've no doubt that if they were ever in a position to move up to the Southern League, the ground graders would make them knock down their old wooden stand and replace it with an identikit bland kit stand. Please, no.

The old stand was built by the supporters' club in 1962. There's the odd hole here and there, and it looks a little weatherworn, but so what? In this setting, nuzzling up to the pitch barrier at the bottom of the slope, framed by mature oaks, it looks like a much-treasured antique, as desirable to anyone who loves old football grounds as a hundred year old Steiff bear with a glass eye missing would be to a teddy bear collector. It's a lovable grandad of a stand, full of character, ready to tell you a tall story or two about the time that Petersfield won the FA Cup in 1932.

Opposite the stand is another home-made piece of cover, built at a crazy angle (see below), stanchions attached to the pitchside barrier. This lies in between the dugouts and the relatively modern clubhouse, built in 1980. Inside the clubhouse, there is a bar and a tea hatch. On the walls are photos of old Brylcreemed and bequiffed team line-ups from the 1950s and 1960s.

And with three rollers dotted around the ground, what's not to love about Love Lane?

The other home-made covered area at Petersfield Town. And no, I didn't tilt my camera!
You can approach the football ground from three directions, but only one of them by car. Love Lane has a no-car zone at its central point, so drivers have to arrive via the ring road to the west. The no-car zone has a sad story attached to it, as this was the last known resting place of Morgan the Tennis Ball. In the absence of a proper football to kick around at breaktime, Morgan the Tennis Ball was the second-years' match ball. Using a tennis ball should theoretically make the players kicking it more skilful, especially on a lumpy, muddy patch of grass, bestrewn with twigs and crab apples.

No comment on the heightened skill levels, but using a tennis ball was a good excuse to hack at the other kids' legs whilst pretending to tackle them. So many bruises, so much pain, so many muddy knees, so many despairing mothers...

One day, Morgan got booted over the hedge at the bottom of the school fields (more likely a sliced goal effort going out for what would have been a throw-in). Slithering down the muddy bank to the road below, it was normally fairly easy to locate Morgan, but on this sad occasion, he was nowhere to be found.

Perhaps he ended up in the football ground? It would have been a fitting final resting place for one so important in the development of our national game - after all, eight of the boys playing that fateful breaktime went on to become full-time professionals at a host of top clubs around the world.*

*No, they didn't. This is a lie.

The stern Victorian school building looks down disapprovingly on the oiks playing association football.
If Morgan had ended up in the football ground, he might have kept on rolling, as there is a tremendous slope at Petersfield Town. The highest point is at the turnstiles, then the ground just drops away in all directions. Anyone taking a spirit level into the ground on a Saturday had better be prepared to lose their bubble.

Anyway, this reminds me: in my line of work, I get to see plenty of aerial photographs in 3-D. Over the last year or two, I've been digging out photos of as many grounds in Hampshire as I could find, and been measuring their slopes. I can now reveal the most slopy grounds in Hampshire, with accurate measurements!

Groundhoppers viewing the action from the old stand.
There are plenty of pan flat pitches around, suitable for a Ronnie O'Sullivan century break, for example, Saints (the pitch closest to sea level in the county, and thus the first to go when the ice melts), the two Totton pitches, and Tadley-Calleva's new build (the latter ground would be the county's highest above sea level at 104m above Newlyn Datum, except it's in Berkshire).

Several grounds have slopes of less than a metre, which is imperceptible to the naked eye. Amongst these are Winchester City (30cm), Pompey (a 30cm concave hump in the middle stretching the length of the pitch, which is noticeable from certain angles), Fareham Town and Moneyfields (both 50cm).

There are slopes of a metre or more at Sholing and Blackfield & Langley (both 1.0m), AFC Portchester (1.1m), and, becoming more obvious at 1.5m, Havant & Waterlooville.

The following five have the biggest slopes that I've been able to measure:*

Andover New Street 1.9m (corner to opposite corner)
Alresford Town, also 1.9m (side to side)
Hythe & Dibden 3.3m (end to end - approximately 10.5 feet in old money)
Petersfield Town 3.8m (clubhouse to opposite corner - over 12 feet)
Horndean, a vertigo-inducing 4.7m (corner to opposite corner - 15 and a half feet)

*I've not had access to stereo photography for Whitchurch United, Hartley Wintney or Fleet Town yet, all of whom have conspicuous slopes. Whitchurch and Fleet Town, in particular, must both be at least 2.5m. I've been able to accurately measure 24 of the 41 pitches that I've visited.

Callum Coker stands ready to poke home Petersfield's third goal.
The home team kicked up the slope in the first half, sun in their eyes, old stand to their left with only me in it for the first ten minutes. The spirit of Mantis was with them as they pummelled Stocky's goal. The inevitable first arrived on 38 minutes with a deft header from a curling free-kick from the left. This was followed two minutes later with a tap-in. The forward thought he hadn't scored, asking the lino why he was waving his flag - but he was pointing it towards the halfway line, which means "goal"..."Why's he disallowed it, ref? I wasn't offside!" "He hasn't, it was a goal!"

The third was scored after an hour or so, Callum Coker slotting in his 36th (or 37th - he may have scored the first...) of the season. The fourth came a minute from the end - the third tap-in of the game.

Stocky kept going. As their captain reminded them at 3-0 down, "Come on lads, we're playing for our cup final places in two weeks here!" Stockbridge play Andover New Street in the Andover Open Cup Final in a fortnight. This is not a tall story.

Petersfield Town look likely to finish fifth, a respectable position indeed, and their best for four years. They'll be happy with that.

Coincidentally, my fellow blogger, The Onion Bag, was also at this match. We didn't speak to one another, as we had no idea who the other was! His report is here. His photos are here.

Top secret tactics board inside Petersfield's dugout.
And that's that. The end. I left one of my favourite grounds until last. As my workmate said when we were discussing Romsey Town's prospects of staying up this season: "Yay! If we go down, there'll be a trip to Petersfield next season!" Indeed. It doesn't really matter what league or division you're in, so long as the football gives you a good day out.

Now, do I carry on, or do I stop right here?


  1. nice report Andrew, enjoyable as usual

  2. Apologies for not offering my congratulations sooner. A fantastic achievement visiting every club in Hampshire, and not just that, but as already mentioned the match-reports have all been brilliant pieces of writing - I know I find it hard to follow in your footsteps when writing up my own forays into the local non-league scene. Carry on I say.

  3. Thank you, chaps! I'm going to have a few months off over the summer, then I think I shall carry on - maybe 15 or so reports next season, but not every week like I had to do at the end there - with all the "research" I do beforehand, then the two days or so of writing I do afterwards (lots of virtual scrunching up of paper and chucking in e-waste paper baskets involved...), it all gets a bit much sometimes. A two or three week gap between matches lets me have a life in between!

    Row Z - we have different writing styles and ways of approaching the subject - I think we compliment each other reasonably well, so don't feel intimidated in any way! You should carry on as well! Looking forward to reading your pieces again next season.