Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Lost World of Football

The Lost World of Football, yesterday.
Look over there, to your right >>>

No, not over there - that's your dog*. I mean, stay looking at the screen. Just there. It's the Got, Not Got blog, written by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke. There's probably something interesting to read on there right now. Possibly a snippet from one of their new books - they've just released 5 (five) in time for Christmas. I've seen two of them, and they're both tremendous reads.

The big one is The Lost World of Football - 200+ pages of nostalgia for the period between 1966 and the year that football was ruined forever (that'd be 1992). It's the follow-up to Got, Not Got, which some of you may have had in your stockings on Christmas morning two years ago. If you think The Lost World is going to be more of the same, but not quite as good - well, you'd be right about it being more of the same, but it's the football book equivalent of The Godfather II or Toy Story 2 - the same, but arguably even better than the original.

And there's lots of me in there...

GASP! As you read about me invading the Fratton Park pitch in 1978!

SWOON! As you see me sat on some bricks at Blantyre Victoria!

ROLL YOUR EYES! As you read about me wasting my life playing LogActa dice!

*Or cat. Other pets are available.

And here's What A Shot!
But it's not all me. You can also reminisce about Chris Waddle's Super Cup Football game; the misery of your favourite comics merging (Shoot! incorporating Goal); players with socks around their ankles...

There's a ton of stuff to read. It took me over a week of ten minutes here, ten minutes there, in between doing all the living of life things. On every page, there was something to remember or something I'd never heard of but wish I'd owned back in the day. On every page a gasp or a titter. And lots of me.

Lavishly illustrated, brilliantly written, The Lost World of Football is a thoroughly engrossing read from cover to shining cover (I really should go into the blurb-writing business).

Petersfield Town - you're in both books!
The other book I've seen by Derek and Gary is What A Shot! I've contributed a few pictures - the one above from Petersfield Town looks particularly splendid. There's others from Glasgow, Hampshire and Bognor Regis which all look terrific in book form.

What A Shot! is mostly photos taken by contributors from inside the crowd - many from the 1980s. There are plenty of blurry snaps of the backs of people's heads, others are scoffing burgers. Look at the cover in the picture above and you'll get a flavour of what to expect. Pompey and Saints from 25 years ago are both featured, as well as my more recent pics from Petersfield and Aldershot.

It's another lovely thing to hold and to browse. Drop a few hints and you might get both books for Christmas!

Oh, and I don't know if Dave or Eddie read this blog, but if you take a peek at The Lost World, you might see some Baralian stuff! Nobody else will know what that means...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Odd Down (Bath) v Moneyfields

The wall of Odd Down (Bath)'s clubhouse at The Lew Hill Memorial Ground.
"No, no, not yet!" Moneyfields' Steve Hutchings was standing in an offside position near the corner flag. His team mate Stuart Green instantly dismissed the possibility of making the simple pass. Instead, he took two steps towards Hutchings, pulling an Odd Down defender along with him. He then stood on the ball, swivelled 180, leaving the hapless left-back wondering where he'd gone, like a disbelieving magician's audience gasping at the glamorous lady in the box who must surely have been sawn in half, but no... He knocked the ball into space twelve yards from the goal and then aimed for the far stanchion. Another Odd Down defender realised what was happening, but too late. Flinging himself at the oncoming sphere, he only managed to deflect the ball in an arc over his own keeper's head.

Ripple, plop, yeeeeesssss!!! 2-1 to Moneyfields! They're on their way to Wembley!

Odd Down (Bath)'s seated stand. A pair of rusty old towel racks on the left.
Odd Down (Bath) AFC (1) 2 v 3 (1) Moneyfields FC
FA Carlsberg Vase 2nd Round
Saturday 16th November 2013
Attendance: 53 (headcount)
Admission: £6
Programme: Free with admission
Colours: Blue / blue / white v Yellow / dark blue / dark blue
National Grid reference: ST7361

It's called the Paul Richards Stand.
I've been following Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase this season. They've done very well so far. Two seasons ago, there were only four county sides left at the Second Round Proper stage, and they were all knocked out. This year, nine had made it through - Folland Sports and Sholing were playing each other, but the other seven were all playing clubs from outside the county, giving me eight ties to choose from.

I decided to visit Odd Down (Bath), as they are a club that's always fascinated me. Exotic. Alluring. Sort of. Studying Rothman's annuals through the years, their name has stood out as one of the more intriguing ones, like Billingham Synthonia. Why did they feel the need to add the name Bath in brackets after their name? This isn't normal. If it was, then we'd be seeing Everton (Liverpool) taking on Arsenal (London) in the Premiership (although if you look at German language league tables, this is precisely what they call our clubs, but without the brackets - thus, Everton are known as "Everton Liverpool" in Germany).

The only other clubs that I can think of with brackets as part of their name are Newport (IW) and Ashford Town (Middx) - both of whom use brackets to distinguish themselves from clubs of the same or similar names elsewhere in the country. Curiously, Newport (IW) were playing across the other side of Bath on Saturday at the home of Odd Down's city rivals, Larkhall Athletic. Two bracketed teams in the same city at the same time. Can't happen very often.

[Reader's exasperated voice: "Fascinating, Andy! Don't tell me, you were going to list all the clubs with hyphens in their names next, then point out that Ruyton-XI-Towns is the only place in Britain with Roman numerals, and then tell us the Pub Quiz Basics fact about Westward Ho! and its unique exclamation mark..."].

No, no, definitely not! I wouldn't be that boring! *hastily rewrites next paragraph*

The roof of the covered standing area is stepped, which shows the direction of the slope at Odd Down's ground.
Odd Down's ground is at the top of a very long hill on the south side of Bath. Handily situated next to one of the city's Park & Ride car parks, it is 175m above sea level (Bath City's Twerton Park is only at 30m, and Larkhall are 80m above sea level). The air is thin up there.

Entering at the gate opposite the social club, immediately in front of you is a sight that would make a lot of groundhoppers very emotional: a dustbin full of unwanted programmes, unsold from previous matches. I also spotted a couple of discarded issues dotted around the ground, unread and unloved.

To the right of the entrance is a covered standing area, flat underneath the roof, but the roof itself goes up in steps. It's at this point that you might want to skip to the next paragraph as I reveal the height of the slope at Odd's a lateral slope of 1.4m, which is the smallest of all the Bath grounds. Bath City and Larkhall Athletic both have 2.5m (10ft) slopes.

Over the far side of the ground is a small stand built in the Eighties containing black and white plastic tip-up seats. Next to the stand are two large green tanks. In front of the tanks are what looks like a pair of rusty old clothes horses. Or possibly towel racks. I wouldn't put my freshly washed towels on them though. They'd get dirty.

Steve Hutchings of Moneyfields traps a loose ball.
Odd Down (Bath) AFC are situated very close to the West Wansdyke, which historians believe was the historic boundary between Saxon England and the Celts. It would once have been a wild frontier town, full of hairy mead-swilling reprobates, ready to repel invaders at a moment's notice.

Saturday's match could be described as feisty. If it had been a boxing match (and it nearly became one at times), it would have been a bare knuckle contest. If you think that football is no longer a contact sport and you've had enough of all that namby-pamby tiki-taki, then this would have been the match for you. It was the brave Celts of Odd Down repelling the yellow-shirted invaders from faraway Portsmouth. An ancient battle re-enacted for the fifty or so enthusiasts that had turned up to be entertained. Except without the crossbows and swords. Or the mead (not on sale in the clubhouse).

Of course, the West Wansdyke has now been eroded by centuries of garden encroachment and dog walkers. It's merely a bump in the landscape, unnoticed by most, but still shown as an antiquity on Ordnance Survey maps.

Moneyfields' Stuart Green skins this bemused Odd Down defender.
The modern day Battle of West Wansdyke at Odd Down will be remembered for a long time by the twenty or so Moneyfields fans that had travelled up from Portsmouth on the fun bus. Crunching tackles, sledging, no-nonsense heading duels, a broken nose for a brave yellow-shirted defender caught in a painful sandwich between Odd Down's enormous centre-half and his own team mate. And five goals - three times Moneys took the lead, twice Odd Down equalised.

It was minute number eighty on the clock before Moneys scored what proved to be the winner, a powerful header by Steve Hutchings from a corner on their left (see the photo below). Imagine the fist-punching rapture, the shrieks of glee, the utter joy. And that was just me, transfixed by this tremendous game, willing the boys from Pompey to triumph in the gloom.

Ten minutes more to hang on. And hang on they did. Just. It's not like the fiery Celts from the old border country didn't try. Spears, chariots, barrels of boiling tar...none of these were used in their assault on Moneys' goal.

A match report from Odd Down can be found here. Moneyfields' perspective on the game was reported in The News here.

In final news from Bath, there were a pair of small dogs being taken for walkies around the pitch several times, which brings my total of FA Vase dogs up to around 15 in four matches - two each both here and at Bracknell, five at Kidlington, and at least six at Hythe & Dibden. A pretty good canine haul.

Steve Hutchings heads the winning goal for Moneyfields in the gathering gloom.
Of the clubs that I'd written about in previous rounds, Hartley Wintney crashed out 5-1 at Erith Town in Kent. Meanwhile, Oxfordshire's Kidlington progressed to the last 64 with home victory over Torpoint Athletic.

Other Hampshire sides that failed to progress on Saturday were Fareham Town, Cove and Folland Sports, which left me with five clubs to follow in the Third Round Proper - the final regionalised round before it goes national in January. The draw looks like this:

AFC Portchester v Blackfield & Langley
Saltash United v Alresford Town
Moneyfields v Bitton
Reading Town v Sholing

Kidlington have a tough match at home to Bodmin Town.

So, four matches to choose from. I haven't a hope of getting to Saltash in time for kick-off, so I shall be at one of the other three games on December 7th. Not sure which yet, but there's three weeks of thinking time to make up my mind.

A stanchion, high above the city of Bath, last Saturday evening.
I was going to finish with a rant about Tottenham Hotspur's heavy-handed approach to Fleet Spurs' copyright-infringing badge, which has been all over the local and national news this past week. However, compared to the slavery conditions of the workers building Qatar's World Cup stadiums under the system of kafala, it really is insignificant. So, breaking with tradition, I'm not going to go off on one about Spurs' legal and marketing departments and their waste-of-space bully-boy non-jobs.

Against Modern Football. So many reasons, but the FA Vase isn't one of them.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Andover New Street v Fleet Spurs

Andover New Street FC. The Swifts.
Andover New Street FC. The Swifts. Good nickname. Reminds me of the time I was walking down the road on my way home a few years ago. It was a dry, hot, dusty midsummer's day. I was looking down at the pavement, seeing if anyone had dropped a fiver, when something in the gutter caught my eye. It was a dead swift. One of those birds that zip around the sky all summer long, arriving here from Africa in early May, disappearing again by the end of the first week in August. Enjoying the cricket from above. Devouring our flying insects.

I picked it up by the tip of its wing, not thinking about any potential diseases or fleases I might catch from it. After all, they spend their entire lives in the air, only landing to lay eggs and keep their wee swiflets cosy in their soffit nests. What kind of lurgy can you catch if you spend all your waking (and sleeping) hours a hundred feet above the ground?

I took it home to show my cat. I thought he'd be interested. Have a sniff and a lick before replacing it in the gutter. I mean, if a cat can't be interested in a dead bird, what's the world coming to?

Of course, he couldn't care less. I waved it around in front of him, pulled its wings out wide to make it look as though it was flying. I even whistled between my teeth for some realistic swift-like sounds to accompany the show of acrobatics. Kitty just yawned and settled back down for a long sleep.

Andover New Street's stand is built on top of an old lorry trailer.
Andover New Street FC (0) 2 v 1 (0) Fleet Spurs FC
Sydenhams Wessex League First Division
Saturday 2nd November 2013
Attendance: 10
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: Green / black / black v Dark blue / red / dark blue
National Grid reference: SU3448 / SU3548

Andover RFC's similar stand.
Where was I going with the swift story? Well, it was supposed to be an analogy for non-league football. The dead swift versus a packet of Whiskas (the Whiskas being the heavily-marketed foodstuff, the swift being the locally-produced organic alternative). Non-league is essentially the same as the professional version - 11 v 11, etc - but is anyone interested? People go for the professional game - and the biggest clubs at that - nearly every time, just as cats prefer Whiskas. It's nearly always a losing battle for non-league enthusiasts trying to persuade others to abandon the hypnotic sparkly lights of the Big City for their local team.

Andover New Street play in the Wessex League First Division, nine levels below Saints, six below Pompey, three below Bashley and AFC Totton. This is proper non-league, where the players are truly amateur and very few people pay to watch. On Saturday, even with only one substitute, there were more people playing for New Street than there were paying customers. I have no doubt that there were more citizens of Andover at Craven Cottage or Upton Park than there were at Foxcotte Park. It's a crying shame.

Inside the homemade stand.
For those who do turn up, Andover New Street have an interesting stand to explore. To quote Vince Taylor in Groundtastic magazine (issue 57): "Instead of arriving on the back of a lorry, as most new stands do nowadays, New Street's stand is the back of a lorry, or to be more precise, a converted lorry container".

The stand was built in 2009, to bring the ground up to Wessex League standards (each ground needs a certain amount of seats, amongst many other requirements). They pinched the idea from the rugby club next door, who have their own container/stand for spectators' comfort. They were both cheap to build and interesting to look at. More clubs should do this, in my humble opinion (is that what IMHO stands for in textspeak? I have no idea).

You enter New Street's stand by opening a garden gate and climbing up the wooden stairs, gripping a banister as you go. Inside, it's chipboard and benches. All perfectly acceptable for me and the club match reporter - the only two people using the facilities during this match.

All ready for an impressive bonfire. Remember to check for hedgehogs.
Driving up to Andover on Saturday, it was like my old friend Roy G Biv had thrown a landscape party for all his rainbow-coloured friends and only indigo and violet had failed to turn up. Blue sky, and reds, oranges, yellows, greens all present in the autumn foliage. All very pretty, but a bit of a nuisance for the club volunteers, as there were thousands of fallen leaves on the pitch that had required clearing that morning, with more falling all the time.

At least they could burn the leaves, as there was a bonfire event due that evening. Close to one corner flag, there was a huge pile of broken wood with an old kitchen chair perched precariously on top, ready for a Guy to sit upon. But who would be the Guy?

We have a bonfire every year, and the children can choose who they want to burn. For example, JLS were the chosen victims a couple of years back. Last year, their choice was between Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, whose finger would have been hovering over America's nuclear button had he won the election; Jimmy Savile, for obvious reasons; and Tory education secretary Michael Gove.

Gove won, taking every single vote from the under-18s - something I suspect he'll never do in a general election when they reach 18-plus. Probably best not to constantly tell every single person in their generation that they're thick, Michael. They're not, and they won't forget.

Bonfire for Mr Gove last year. No idea who New Street had on theirs...

Andover New Street's Prince Xhamela does a "Klinsmann".
It was one of those games on Saturday where nothing much happens until around 4.30, then all the fireworks go off towards the end. A slow burner. If the first seventy minutes was a novel, it would have been The Rainbow by DH Lawrence, the A Level text that nearly put me off reading for life. Give me a rumbustuous fairy story any day, the type where handsome princes always save the day.

As it happens, a handsome prince saved this match from fizzing out like a damp firework. The splendidly named Prince Xhamela scored twice within ten minutes near the end to win the game for New Street. Great name - pity it's not spelt Zhamela, as I'd only been talking about my old Subbuteo team the previous week with a work colleague who was dealing with a Mrs Zammit - the Subbuteo team made up entirely of players whose names began with Z...Zammit, Zorab, Zebedee, Zeal...Zhamela - so very nearly! (Another Subbuteo team - Austria Vienna, I think they were - consisted of players whose names sounded a bit rude - Fuchs, Kuntz, etc. You did the same, admit it).

Whisper, whisper...
Fleet Spurs scored a consolation with a few minutes remaining via a flicked header from a well-delivered free-kick. They kept going, the manager urging them that there was "still plenty of time to win this", but it was all over when their keeper was sent off in injury time. A New Street player was through on goal, but was brought down by a Spurs defender as he tried to chip the onrushing keeper. The white-shirted custodian handled the ball outside of his box. It was just a matter of which player to send packing - defender or goalie? The ref and his lino had a quiet conversation right in front of me and opted to send off Fleet Spurs' number one. I tried earwigging, but to no avail, so I didn't hear their reasoning.

It got worse for Spurs, as they had left the key inside the away changing room at half-time and were locked out. They may still be waiting for a shower even now, so far as I know.

The end of another grand day out in the Sydenhams Wessex League. Now to find the changing room keys...
For those of you who were hoping for another photo of Andover New Street's bicycle made for ten (snapped a couple of years ago when I was last here), I'm afraid it's gone. Still a nice ground and a friendly club though. I'll be back again in the future.

Oh, and did I get lost trying to find my way out of Andover's impossibly difficult roundabout system again? Of course!

Some more photos from the game can be seen here. And here is another match report.

Next time out, I shall be at an FA Vase tie. Odd Down v Moneyfields is my most likely destination.