Monday, 14 October 2013

Hartley Wintney v Clevedon Town

A sign with the times.
To be fair to Clevedon's keeper, there were mitigating circumstances. There was the elbow in his midriff, tipping him off-balance. Another referee on another day would have blown for a foul, but not today. Then there was the low watery sun in his eyes - a sort of hazy alien sunlight that would normally only be seen in an Isaac Asimov-inspired science fiction world - kind of yellow, kind of orange, kind of distracting.

Then again, he may have been thinking about his wonder save from a few seconds earlier. How would he describe it to his family upon his return to Somerset? How high had he leapt? How fast was the ball travelling? Like a fisherman's catch, it was more and more impressive the more he thought about it.

Perhaps he'd been distracted by something more prosaic, like thinking about what he'd have for dinner that evening? Or maybe he'd bumped in to ex-TVS newsreader Chris Peacock in the clubhouse and had just realised why his name was so funny to teenage boys. Did he have a brother called Drew? Did he call his dad Pop?

Whatever the reason, it didn't change a thing. The ball had slipped out of his gloves and was now resting beside the goalpost, a few inches over the goal line. 1-0 to Hartley Wintney.

This way to FA Cup fun.
Hartley Wintney FC (0) 1 v 1 (0) Clevedon Town FC
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round (with Budweiser)
Saturday 12th October 2013
Attendance: 410
Admission: £6
Programme: Unfortunately sold out when I arrived, but I know from my previous visit that they are excellent value for money at £1.
Colours: All orange v Blue and white stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7656

And you will know us by the trail of bread...Hartley Wintney's thatched duck house.
Saturday was only the second time that Hartley Wintney had ever reached the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. I'd seen them on the previous occasion two years ago when they'd lost 4-0 at neighbours Basingstoke Town. That time out, they were massive underdogs, being three levels below their opponents and were well beaten.

This time saw them at home to a club in the relegation zone of the league immediately above, so they must have been confident of a win which would see them in the draw for the final round before Football League clubs enter the competition. The likes of Aldershot Town, Edgar-Davids-Barnet or Luton Town potentially awaited Saturday's winners.

Hartley Wintney FC's clubhouse at half-time on Saturday.
Even so, it was still a David versus Goliath situation. Or, if you prefer to avoid the usual cliche, choose one from any of these expressions:
  • Men v monsters
  • Chimpanzees v mountain gorillas
  • Gorillas v Godzilla
  • Hobbits v trolls
  • The first tiny primitive mammals v tyrannosaurus rex
  • Underpants v vicious wood ants
How about the tiny Hants village with a thatched duck house in the village pond versus the mighty Somerset metropolis by the sea?

Or we could stick with David versus Goliath.

No spectators beyond this point is what it says.
I had commentary provided for me during the first half by three knowledgable ten year old boys who came and stood next to me. Evidently, they played for one of the club's many young person's teams as they chatted amongst themselves about their playing exploits. "I played up front last week and scored three goals". "I played in goal and we won 8-0".

They reminded me of myself at a similar age - they knew which league Hartley played in, as well as all their opponents. They knew all about Camberley and Badshot Lea and Havant & Waterlooville - they'd been unlucky to lose to the Hawks on Tuesday evening - "only 3-0 against a team from three divisions above us!" They were looking forward to going to Molineux in a later round of the FA Cup, as the game was bound to be televised.

The main talking point of the first half was when Hartley's full-back was sent off when the ball hit his face and rebounded on to his hand on the goal line. The ref awarded a penalty, which was saved by Hartley's keeper. The boys weren't impressed by the referee's decision and thought the save was justice done. They were definitely on their way to Wolverhampton now...

What happened next?
No inadvertent commentary in the second half for me as I stood between two older fans, one of whom was on the phone telling someone about the size of the crowd and how there were so many people here he'd never seen before - after all, when you're part of a crowd of fifty or so regulars, you do get to recognise everyone. Some of them become mates, others nodding acquaintances. You're part of an exclusive gang of mostly middle-aged and older men. I was one of 350 or so outsiders and interlopers in the crowd of 410 (we were all made to feel welcome though, may I add).

Going down to ten men didn't affect Hartley Wintney adversely. Indeed, it had the opposite effect as the sending off had been harsh in their eyes. It was like watching a game of pinball as the ball pinged from one end of the pitch to the other, both sides having chance after chance, but nothing went right until Clevedon's keeper had his nightmare moment ten minutes into the second period.

Some of the crowd of 410 watching from Hartley Wintney's stand.
From that point onwards, Hartley's players began to tire and the West Country side had more and more opportunites. My notebook reveals a double block on the line after 58 minutes; the outside of the post being shaved after 61; Hartley's keeper making a save that Joe Hart would have been proud of from a bouncing header after 65 minutes...and so it went on.

With ten minutes remaining, the homesters were resembling the first tiny shrew-like proto-mammals, their primitive legs and lungs knackered after being relentlessly pursued by vicious giant carnivores. It was almost inevitable that Clevedon would equalise, and so they did, via a deflected long-range shot. The ten-year-olds had spotted that Town's number 11 was their most effective player - it was he that stuck his foot out to score.

That wasn't the end of the action, as Mr Notebook tells me that Clevedon hit the post again; they then had four shots in succession blocked by brave defenders' bodies; and finally, number 11 was adjudged by the ref to have dived to try and win a penalty with two minutes remaining. The ref booked him.

And so it finished 1-1. A nitroglycerine rocket-powered stormer of a cup tie. To be replayed just two days later with the whole of the Hartley team having to take a half day off of work to travel to the West Country. Surely they'd blown their big chance?

The fire exit. Or the entrance to an enchanted world?
A match report from the Basingstoke Gazette can be read here. One from Clevedon Town's website (with photos) here. Andy the Photographer took many photos, which can be found here. If you look carefully at Andy's photos, you can see the handball for Clevedon's penalty and Hartley Wintney's goal in freeze-frame slow-mo. There were at least four other people taking photos, but I've not located any of theirs online yet.

The replay is going on as I write on Monday evening. Hartley's Twitter feed tells me that the half-time score is 2-0 to Clevedon. The winners will be at home to either Grays Athletic or Daventry Town in the final qualifying round.

Edit: extraordinary goings-on in the replay according to Twitter. The Row (Hartley Wintney's nickname) came back to win 4-3 with a penalty in the 96th minute! The village team with the thatched duck house will be playing, quite unbelievably, in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in a fortnight! They could yet be playing at Molineux or Bramall Lane or Fratton Park in early November. Quite extraordinary. It's going to be quite an occasion on October 26th.

Be there.

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