Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Bracknell Town v Hartley Wintney

Welcome signs old and new at Bracknell Town FC.
Have I told you about my workmate who wouldn't eat food with holes in? I haven't? Well, it all came out recently when one of our colleagues brought doughnuts in to the office to celebrate his birthday. These weren't the squishy, sugar-crusted variety with strawberry jam squelching out of the middle. No, these were doughnuts with holes, as eaten by Homer Simpson.

My workmate (we'll call him Cyril - not his real name) refused to have one, despite being a good pal of the birthday boy. He insisted that food with holes was "just plain wrong" - no other reason, just "plain wrong". Of course, we had to go through every hole-ridden food we could think of to test him out...Polo mints, pretzels, spaghetti hoops (and what about letters with holes in Alphabetti Spaghetti? Your B's and P's, etc? Are E's and Y's okay to eat?).

Of course, in the end, he had to admit to liking some of these foods. I mean, how can Party Rings be wrong? We found more holes in his argument than there are in a kilo of emmenthal.

Bracknell Town FC's main stand is dwarfed by a nearby college building.
Bracknell Town FC (1) 1 v 2 (0) Hartley Wintney FC
FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round
Saturday 21st September 2013
Attendance: Overheard a club official saying they'd broken the 100 barrier.
Admission: £6
Programme: £1 (superb, the best I've seen since Hartley Wintney's two seasons ago)
Colours: All red v All blue
National Grid reference: SU8768 / SU8769

The Stripey End...
Reader's voice: Is there any point to this story, Andy? We want to read about Bracknell Town v Hartley Wintney here, not about this silly Cyril guy.

Hmmm, not really, unless you count the blackberries growing wild at Bracknell's Larges Lane ground as non-holey food - I think Cyril would like them.

Reader: Oh, come on, tell us why you were there...

Okay, I travelled outside of Hampshire for the first time in this blog's history because I'm attempting to follow Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase this season. Doesn't matter where they play, so long as I can get there and back in reasonable time - I won't be travelling to the north-east, for example, if any of the county's teams are drawn to play the likes of Billingham Synthonia or Whitley Bay in a later round. That's not going to happen for a while though, as the rounds are drawn on a regional basis for the time being.

It was Hartley Wintney's turn this time out.

...Oh, hang on, it's actually Tractor Corner!
Reader: Right, that's better. What was the ground like? Weren't Bracknell Town a Southern League club up until recently?

Yes, they played at a higher level than their current status suggests for around a quarter of a century. They were relegated to the Hellenic League in 2010. Because they played in the Southern and Isthmian Leagues for so long, Larges Lane is relatively well-developed for a step 5 club.

You enter via one of three beautifully preserved "proper" turnstiles (not one of those rubbish modern contraptions that you have to swipe a barcode to enter). Immediately to your left as you go in is a small brick-built stand which houses the directors and around 50 fans on red or white plastic seats. In front of this stand are a pair of disused dugouts - no longer needed in these days of multiple substitutes.

Moving along clockwise, you come to a second well-built stand, with around 100 red plastic seats. The poles holding up the roof are made of wood and have been painted bright red over the summer. Very smart.

A view along the side of Larges Lane showing the two seated areas and (just visible), one of the covered standing areas.
Reader: Good, good. You mentioned blackberries. Where are they?

Yes, the blackberries are over the far side from the two stands. Rotting away, they were. If you enjoy free wild fruit at football grounds, get to Larges Lane as soon as possible. And bring an ice cream tub or something similar if you want to take some home. I'm sure the club won't mind.

Reader: Mmm, I fancy some of that. Anything else worth mentioning about the ground or the town itself?

Yes, there's plenty more to look at. There are two covered three-step terraces - the one behind the goal is painted in fetching red and white stripes. A local character has his own seat made out of an upturned crate or something similar at this end. He'll probably say hello to you as you walk past. The other terrace contains a press box for two reporters, one of whom brings his westie to the match.

There's also a cosy clubhouse and a rusty roller (although the roller is locked away in a compound and difficult to spot). It's a nice ground.

As for Bracknell itself, I don't know much. It was mostly built in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a new town (the football club is much older - there was a village there before Bracknell New Town was built around it). There are 79 subways. And it was the home of the Met Office before it was relocated to Exeter.

Question: What's a dog's favourite county? Answer: Barkshire!
Reader: Thanks Andy, this is most informative. The Met Office, eh? I wonder if you could write about the match itself using as many weather references as possible? Did it rain goals? Was there a frosty reception for Hartley Wintney? Did the red mist descend upon any of the players? Heh heh.

Hey, you should be writing this, not me. Anyway, Bracknell got off to a breezy start, scoring after five minutes with a bolt from the blue, and by the glistening rainbow beard of Roy G Biv, it was a terrific goal - a thunderous volley from just inside the box.

Their high pressure start nearly paid off again five minutes later, but the linesman rained on their parade by raising his flag for offside.

Hartley Wintney weathered the early storm, but the outlook was grim for them. The rest of the first half descended into the doldrums with no more goals for either side. However, this was the calm before the force ten gale. Despite being a goal to the good, there were clouds on the horizon for the home side.

Tackling and leaping action as Bracknell Town win the ball.
Hartley Wintney must have had a thunderbolt delivered by their management team at half-time, as they swept down the pitch with the regularity and ferocity of the Mistral early in the second period. They equalised when Jack Coventry struck the ball past the Bracknell keeper with the deadly accuracy of a Midwestern twister.

Lightning struck a second time seven minutes later with a long ball out of defence and an ice-cold finish past the home side's netminder. More goals were confidently forecast, but none came.

In the last ten minutes, Bracknell flooded forward looking for a second goal which would have taken the tie into extra-time. They hit the bar and had the follow-up shot cleared off the line, but that was that.

Deep depression for the Robins of Bracknell Town as they exited the Vase. A blue sky day for Hampshire heroes Hartley Wintney.

Right, there must be more weather-related football expressions. What did I miss?

Bracknell Town's press box, post-match.
In the previous round, I saw Hythe & Dibden beat Oldland Abbotonians. They won again on Saturday - this time away to local rivals, the higher-ranked Totton & Eling. Thus, Hythe & Dibden and Hartley Wintney were both in Monday's draw for the First Round Proper.

The nine ties involving Hampshire clubs are:

Newhaven v Cove
Winchester City v Sholing
Kidlington v Lymington Town
Highmoor Ibis v Folland Sports
Abingdon United v Fareham Town
Hartley Wintney v Petersfield Town
Moneyfields v Christchurch
Bradford Town v AFC Portchester
Alresford Town v Hythe & Dibden

I hope to be at one of these on October 19th.

Reader: Glad to hear that, but please don't go off on one about Party Rings and emmenthal next time, eh?

Bracknell Town's  report of the match can be found on their website here.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hythe & Dibden v Oldland Abbotonians

Hythe & Dibden's Ewart Recreation Ground, taken from Aurigny's G-JOEY last week.
I saw it as I was about to step on to the rattly old train that runs along Hythe Pier - pinned to a wooden post betwixt the ferry and the end of the platform, a scrap of paper with something transcribed on it in slanty capitals in black marker pen. Written in a neat, feminine hand, I could just make out the first line:


I couldn't see any more, as there was a shaky old gentleman with a walking stick trying to climb on to the train behind me. I looked away from the note and offered the old fellow my hand. A few seconds later, the aged train stretched, yawned, and slowly pulled away from the pier end terminus.

Britain's seventh-longest pier at Hythe.
Hythe & Dibden FC (1) 3 v 2 (1) Oldland Abbotonians FC
FA Vase First Qualifying Round
Saturday 7th September 2013
Attendance: Hard to tell, as people always coming and going at the Rec. 50-60?
Admission: £5
Programme: £1 (enjoyed the quiz!)
Colours: Green / white / white v Blue and white stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU4208

Waiting to announce the teams before kick-off.
I couldn't stop thinking about the note as I walked the short distance from the pier to Hythe & Dibden's football ground. Was the note new - was "John" going to be at the match today? Would I see him or even talk to him? Had he seen the note? How did he feel about it?

Or was the note old? Had it been there since the last Saints home match? St Mary's is only a fifteen minute walk from the ferry terminal on the Southampton side of the River Test. Was the note a hoax? Had a "mate" pinned it up as a wind-up? There were a lot of questions spinning round and around inside my addled mind.

Watching from the warm seats.
I had returned to the Ewart Recreation Ground in Hythe to watch a First Qualifying Round match in the FA Vase. This is a competition for clubs below Southern League level - in Hampshire, sides from the Wessex and Combined Counties Leagues compete in it, hoping to win through up to nine rounds to reach a Wembley final (where they will almost inevitably meet a team from the Northern League, who invariably win the competition).

Sides like Sholing, Winchester City and Blackfield & Langley can realistically dream of Wembley glory in May, whereas today's opponents, Hythe & Dibden and Oldland Abbotonians, will be doing well to win a couple of matches. Still, you never know, funny old game and all that...

Hythe & Dibden's Hakeem Osumah shoots! Oldland Abbotonians' Ryan Perry saves!
Saturday was Non-League Day - held every year whilst the Premiership and Championship have a week off for internationals, it's the day when small clubs get a bit of publicity in the media and crowds tend to rise a little because of it. I prefer the non-league game these days anyway, so I was always going to come, but I did hear one fellow say he was at Hythe specifically because it was Non-League Day.

Why would anyone want to watch a top flight match anyway? Following Premiership football, with its obsession with overseas markets, wallowing in rivers of TV gold - it's all about as exciting as cheering on ICI or BP in the international money markets. The price hikes, the primadonnas, the cutting edge tactical analysis by Alan Shearer on Match of the Day...

...Vacuous semi-humans in big clubs' marketing departments obsessed with selling shirts in Malaysia and hunting for an official candy bar partner in Bahrain, working their nuts off for a deposit on a mid-range BMW, whilst the owners skim off all the profit (and more) to buy yet another luxury yacht and the players get paid in "image rights" to avoid paying their taxes...

Thanks, but no thanks.

Hythe & Dibden equalise with a Simon De'ath wonder strike.
The players at Hythe & Dibden may get paid petrol money, or a tenner for a win, or they may play for nothing at all (I neither know nor care), but it's usually more enjoyable here than watching the overpaid, ungrateful few at the top of the game.

I looked at the name board pinned to the outside of the changing rooms to check for Johns - he may have been playing - but there weren't any today. He must be in the crowd of 50 or so that were gathering around the rails, chatting and laughing as the players walked out together behind the officials.

I noticed one or two small changes to the ground since last season - the quirky corner shelter had been moved to join up like a Lego piece with several other identical shelters on the playground side. All straight and neat and tidy for the new season, ready for Hythe & Dibden's assault on the Vase (although they have as much chance of winning the trophy as the Jamaican bobsled team had of winning gold in Calgary). The dugouts and railings had been painted as well - smart and shiny.

The legendary Simon De'ath celebrates his second goal with a nonchalant trot and a cheeky smile.
It only took a minute for Bristolians Oldland Abbotonians to take the lead (Oldland is at 5 o'clock on the outer edge of Bristol), one of their forwards breaking through Hythe's defence and cracking one in low from the edge of the box. I feared for the home team, as they had been heavily beaten every time I'd seen them previously. But this season's version is a mean green machine, and instead of wilting and dying like an old courgette plant at summer's end, they stood up proud and erect like the conifer behind the lower goal.

It helps having the legendary Simon De'ath in your team (legendary to Romsey Town fans at any rate, where he scored approximately 6,000,000 goals in his six seasons with the club). His curling wonder strike from 25 yards after half an hour was a worthy equaliser. He then went and scored two more barnstormers in the second half - only one of which counted, as the 40 yard lob over Oldland's keeper was mysteriously disallowed, presumably for offside.

Hakeem Osumah twinkled through the visitors' rearguard to score Hythe's third with 13 minutes remaining, before the Abbotonians pulled one back after 88 minutes. The ref's watch seemed to have stopped whilst much treading on the ball by the corner flag ensued. If Oldland had equalised, there may well have been extra time and penalties, which would have been exciting, but we'd been spoilt enough with the entertaining 90 minutes as it was.

All straight and tidy for the first home match of the season.
On my way out of the Ewart Rec, I overheard two men talking about the match: "That was a nervous last five minutes, wasn't it, John?"

John? John?! I wonder if he was heading towards the pier?

Hythe & Dibden travel to near-neighbours Totton & Eling in a fortnight; Oldland Abbotonians head back to Bristol with memories of a pleasant day out on the Waterside.

By the by, Hythe & Dibden have featured heavily in football blogs already this season. You can read about their match at Petersfield Town on Row Z here; their trip to Andover Town here; and this match was also covered here (although I didn't see anyone else taking photos). There is also a set of pictures from their away match at Tadley-Calleva here.

Another Vase report in a fortnight.