Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Fourth Annual Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers

Going for the sympathy vote at Christchurch FC.
It's that time again when everyone gets to tell everyone else about their favourite films, TV programmes or songs of the year, whether it be in the comments sections of national publications or on social media in general. The journalists and tastemakers have spoken - now it's our turn! Well, since you asked, my favourite song this year was...but you didn't ask, so I'm not going to bore you with my opinion.

Instead, I'm going to decide which was my favourite roller of the past half-season - this is what you're actually here for, isn't it?

Kicking off 2014/15 at Christchurch, I snapped the little chap above. A young roller who might have got my vote if he hadn't placed himself next to a sad-looking mower without any wheels! The equivalent of posing with a doe-eyed orphaned labrador puppy for a sympathy vote.

Well, my vote can't be bought like that, young man! Next...

Posing with a bin at Horsham YMCA.
Quivering behind a bashed up old bin at Horsham YMCA was the rather shy fellow above. Obviously not very confident and a little unfashionable with its old-fashioned rusty metal framework, I can't see enough of him to sway my vote his way. I need a little more swagger in my old groundsmen's equipment! I expect his mum loves him though, so that's what really counts.

Double trouble at Amesbury Town.
In my third match report of the season from Amesbury Town, I christened one end of their pitch "The Rusty Roller End", and for good reason. These two sausage-like behemoths were keeping guard behind the goal, like twin night club bouncers. To be honest, I found them a little intimidating, as I was standing behind the goal during the second half, and I'm sure I saw one of them move! I couldn't turn my back on them after that...

Covered in beautiful yellow flowers at Swanage Town & Herston FC.
No groundsmen's equipment on display at Chertsey Town, so my next sighting was on a sunny day in Dorset. The exceedingly rusty specimen at Swanage Town & Herston above had covered itself in what it must have believed to be a beautiful bouquet of flowers. A good attempt at winning my vote, but I prefer marigolds.

Just the right amount of rust at Fleetlands FC.
There were two rollers at Fleetlands. One had made no effort to impress me whatsoever, lolling nonchalantly amongst the cars in the club car park, smoking a fag and swigging a can of fizzy beer. You don't win anyone's vote like that! The one above was much more lovable, posing in front of an old exhaust pipe. Just the right amount of rust and a perfectly proportioned handle. It's in with a chance of my virtual trophy!

Mr Spiky of Daisy Hill FC.
But hang on! What's this?! A spiky roller! Always a big favourite of mine! This is from Daisy Hill FC - one of six grounds in the north-west that I visited this autumn whilst working in the area (the others being Burscough, Bacup & Rossendale Borough, Glossop North End, Accrington Stanley and Padiham). I just wish he'd picked up some of that litter behind him before posing for the camera...

Nice ground at Daisy Hill, but the only one in the area to have any groundsmen's equipment on show. I may post some more pictures from the northern grounds after Christmas.

Horndean FC. Roller number 1, hopefully recovered from the lurgy by now.
The ground with the most rollers this autumn was Five Heads Park, home of Horndean FC. Their equipment looked a little ill. There must have been something going round in Horndean in November, as rollers number 1 and 2 were both covered in spots. Get well soon, chaps!

Horndean FC. Roller number 2, feeling a bit peaky.
Horndean's third roller was extremely tricky to spot, being hidden behind the small shelter at the end not open to spectators. Any player lucky enough to take a corner nearby would have had a good view of roller number 3. From what I could see through the fog and general all-round gloom, it looked absolutely magnificent! I don't think I could, in all conscience, vote for it though, as for all I know, close up, I might have seen it was a cardboard cut-out. A vote for a cardboard roller would bring the whole process into disrepute.

Horndean FC. Number 3 - tricky to spot.
So, who to vote for? Wait, what was that you said? I'd already handed out the trophy in August to a roller at Christchurch? Why, I think you're right, I did! Do you mean I have to delete this piece and start again? I don't know, maybe I'll rewrite it tomorrow...

If you click on the tag "Rollers etc" (in the Other Labels list) on the right, you will be able to view the previous Festive Parades and End Of Season Roller Round-Ups. This was the seventh in the series!

Looking back at last year's Festive Parade, it appears that HAH had just had its 40,000th page view on Christmas Eve. It looks as though page view number 73,000 will be had later today. You can't all have been spambots, false referral sites or me checking for comments during my lunchbreak at work, so thank you to everyone who has looked in this year, and have a Very Merry Christmas and an Amazing New Year!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Alresford Town v Phoenix Sports Club

The view from one of the hanging baskets at Alresford Town FC.
Reader's voice: "Hey Andy, are you going to ask us to write your latest match report again? If so, I'm out of here! That was hard work last time out."

No, that was a one-off. I was very busy that week and didn't have the time to do it. Bit more spare time this week, so I'll do it myself.

"That's a relief! Are you going to start the report with something weird and irrelevant, like you usually do?"

Well, I thought about writing about the heroic mule, Hamilton T. Bone...

"Who? What? Why?"

Hamilton T. Bone, or Hambone, as he was more commonly known, featured in one of my childhood books - The Puffin Book Of Animal Heroes, or something similar. He was a brave mule serving the Army in combat. Think War Horse, but a mule...

Whilst walking along the banks of the River Arle prior to the match on Saturday, I came across what I thought was his gravestone. Upon further inspection though, it appears that the gravestone belongs to a WWII regimental dog called Hambone. According to this link, scruffy brown and white terrier Hambone never made it to Normandy for D-Day, as he was run over by an army truck as they were preparing to depart for Utah Beach.

"Aw, that's a sad story..."

I know. He must have been a very good dog.

This viewing platform is new since my last visit to Alresford Town.
Alresford Town FC (1) 1 v 2 (2) Phoenix Sports Club
FA Vase Third Round
Saturday 6th December 2014
Attendance: 73
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: Black and white stripes / black / black v All red
National Grid reference: SU5832

Kneeling On Ice: Alresford Town's Adam Carrick bends down to trap the ball. Brrrr!
It was cold in Alresford on Saturday. So cold that the part of the pitch that the sun was unable to reach behind the clubhouse / town council building was still covered in frost at kick-off time. Some referees might have deemed the surface dangerous and called the game off, but sensibly, with the opposition having come such a long way, the matchday ref decided it was game on! Ice skates not required, football boots on!

Good decision for Alresford Town, as they literally caught their Kentish opponents cold after 90 seconds. Harry Draycott raced through a defence that was as static as a gathering of emperor penguins in an Antarctic blizzard. He pushed the ball through to Tom Riddell, who sidestepped the advancing keeper. Net rippled, goal number one to the home team. Surely the first of many against such a poor defence?

A good dog watches the game patiently. Hambone would have been so proud...
Hang on. According to the Southern Counties East League table, Phoenix Sports Club were a team that had conceded only six goals all season. No-one at Step 5 had let in less goals nationwide. They had not lost at all since being promoted from the Kent Invicta League last season. Ten wins in a row. This was not a poor defence. This was not a bad team. And so it proved once they had settled down. Once they'd warmed up, they were to prove as dangerous as a pack of ravenous polar bears.

But who are Phoenix Sports Club? They are from Barnehurst in south-east London, right on the edge of the city, virtually in Dartford. London / Kent border. About 5 miles from Charlton Athletic, their nearest Football League club. A community club, like so many others at this level, with dozens of age group teams. The first team are playing at their highest-ever level since being formed in 1935. Phoenixes. Rising. Etc.

I was aware that they are not the only club called Phoenix "Something", as there is a similarly-named team in Nottinghamshire, so I had to check to see how many Phoenix clubs there are. Source: The Non-League Club Directory 2014. Answer: 7 (including Phoenix Knights...).

Whilst I was thumbing the index, I had to check the number of Athleticos, Dynamos and Reals (yep, nothing better to do that day!). Answers: Athleticos: 5 (including Athletico Arundel); Dynamos: only 2; Reals: 11. The most common prefixes appear to be AFC and Old (as in Old Boys). Just so you know, like...

...whilst a bad dog invades the pitch (twice). Hambone would have been so disappointed.
I've posted pictures of Alresford Town's ground before. The only change since February 2013 is an extension to the viewing platform above the changing rooms, which looks like it could be a nice place to have a cool drink of lemonade on a warm day. On Saturday, cups of tea and mugs of soup would have been more sensible, along with thermal underwear and woolly hats.

Or we could have run around to keep warm, like the players. On 20 minutes, Phoenix's Harrison Carnegie kept out the chill by scarpering down the right flank and crossing for the impressive Yacine Gnahore. "Feed the Yak and he will score", as we used to sing to Aiyegbini Yakubu when he played for Pompey. Feed this Yac, and there's no doubt about what he will do, walloping the ball in without a second's hesitation to make it 1-1.

Phoenix Sports then scored the winner just before half-time when Gary Morrison palmed out a close-range header by Louis Valencia straight to Ricky Freeman, standing six yards out, who volleyed the ball back past the keeper's ears and between the sticks.

Phoenix Sports Club's keeper Steve Phillips smothers the ball.
As usual at Alresford, there were a few people watching the game from behind the netting and wire fencing which surrounds the pitch. Some of these people were "taking the dog out for a walk". The dogs were as interested in the football as their owners - one mutt in particular, who couldn't stand it any longer after 35 minutes. He just had to join in!

I don't know how he got in to the ground, as he was definitely watching from behind the netting earlier in the game, but enter the stadium he did, ignoring the signs telling spectators to keep off the pitch. Sticks are old skool! Manky tennis balls? Pah! That big ball needed to be chased! On he came, heading straight for the ball whilst Phoenix were attacking, skidding past players trying to catch him, nudging the ball with his wet nose, lolloping past the far goal and back out of the stadium!

Five minutes later, with Alresford on the offensive (at least he was fair to both sides), he was back again for more action! Zigzag, skim, pant, bounce, and out again! All the while, a little white terrier stood patiently by the side of the pitch, tutting away and thinking how disappointed Hambone would have been with this bad dog's disrespectful actions...

Sunset over Arlebury Park.
The second half wasn't incident-free, as the ref was hit on the side of the head and needed treatment. From the drop ball, a Phoenix player tried whacking the ball out of play, but hit the ref on the side of the head again! More magic sponge, and he was able to carry on. Great saves at both ends kept the scoreline at 2-1, but it was all over for Alresford at the final whistle.

There are match reports on Alresford Town's website and in the Echo, here and here.

Not only Alresford, but AFC Portchester and Blackfield & Langley were also defeated on their home patches, which means that my Vase journey is over for this season, as there are no Hampshire clubs left in the draw for the Round Of 32.

Phoenix Sports Club will travel to Bodmin Town in the next round. Portchy and Blackfield would probably have played each other if they'd gone through, as their conquerors were drawn against each other. The club that beat Horndean in my last report, Ascot United, beat Newport (IoW). With Verwood Town also falling, that left no Wessex League clubs at all still in the competition in 2015. Very unusual.

The full moon waxes gibbous as it rises over the corner flag.
What next for me? Well, I've checked back at my aims for the season, and there are still things to do. I still intend to write another seven reports. At least two of these will be from Wessex League clubs that I've yet to visit (Verwood Town, Bournemouth Poppies, Hamworthy United, Laverstock & Ford, Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Pewsey Vale). With a reformed Salisbury club likely to be joining the league next season, I might visit more than two, with at least one being from the Salisbury area (so that I can complete the league next season). My other main aim was to feature at least six clubs that I'd only previously reported on once before - I've already done this, but I might feature one or two more.

Hythe & Dibden have a new ground, and I've yet to visit AFC Totton's new stadium, so they're possibilities, depending upon how the fixtures fall. Plenty still to do. I'm having a midwinter break now (although there will be the traditional Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers over Christmas). My next match report will be from a fixture on Saturday 17th January, winter weather and man flu permitting.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Horndean v Ascot United

Welcome to Horndean FC...
For various reasons which are too tedious to make you read, I don't have much time to write this latest match report from the FA Vase Second Round tie between Horndean and Ascot United. Instead, YOU can write this report yourself in the style of Hopping Around Hampshire (if you want to). It's okay, I'll give you plenty of guidance...

The bits you have to fill in are in square brackets:

[Write a long, rambling anecdote or flight of fancy about something that appears to have no relevance either to the match in question, or to football in general. For example, go back a few years and remember that time at school, as you walked into biology class, and that dinlo Stephen Mcleod tripped you and you tumbled straight in to the school skeleton (he'd recently drawn nipples on to the skeleton's ribs and had accused you of dobbing him in to Mr hadn't, of course). The skeleton toppled in slow motion, with you falling on top of it, arms flailing, satchel flying off to one side, skimming across the floor and hitting Debbie Bonser on her left ankle. You landed in a compromising position, with the skeleton's legs akimbo, just as Mr Stone walked in to the room...]

...who play at Five Heads Park.
Horndean FC (0) 0 v 1 (0) Ascot United FC
Saturday 22nd November 2014
FA Vase Second Round
Attendance: 60
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: Red and white hoops / red / red v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU6913 / SU7013

Substitutes' jerseys ready to wear in Horndean's dugout.
[Continue the anecdote. What happened next to you, the skeleton, Mr Stone, Stephen McLeod and Debbie Bonser? Which of them paired up, got married, had children and lived happily ever after? Desperately try to make the anecdote relevant to the match. Perhaps the goal celebration resembled the moment you and the school skeleton got together? Perhaps one of the players got booked for repeating the exact words that Mr Stone uttered that fateful day?]

A park bench ready to be occupied by the corner flag at Horndean.
[Find something in the club history which might bring all the inconsequential nonsense in the first two paragraphs together. For example, you find that Horndean won an obscure cup in 1935 named after local luminary Dr Charles Bone (skeletons, you see, phew). Remember, you could be quoted in Wikipedia as a "trusted source" if you go down the club history route, so don't cock this bit up...]

Taking in the action from underneath the overhanging shelter outside the dressing rooms at Five Heads Park.
[Describe the ground. Pretend you're walking around the pitch in an anti-clockwise direction. Remember to mention the wheelbarrows near the entrance and the various rollers dotted around the ground, but completely forget to talk about the brick stand. And the extraordinary slope. It's okay, nobody will notice, they're only here to look at the photos...]

A typical crunching Vase tackle.
[Precis the first half. Get at least one player's name wrong (not on purpose, it's just something I do all the time by accident). Miss the most important action of the half because you were trying to locate a robin twittering in the bushes behind you. Note down the half-time music. Fail to recognise Happy by Pharrell Williams, but rave about an obscure ska classic by The Ethiopians. Readers won't know what you're talking about, so make sure you link to the obscure song on Youtube (not that anyone is going to click on the link, but do it anyway)...]

Ashley Harris heads just wide.
[Precis the second half. Use arcane language to describe the winning goal. Try to emulate my blogging hero Skif by never describing a goal in the same way twice, but then say that the centre-forward skipped around the hapless centre-half as if he were doing the Disco Duck under a spinning nightclub glitterball for the third time in the last match five reports...]

Horndean's physio attends to a sore head.
[Add links to other match reports and photos. Indicate when your next match report is due. Try to link back to the opening paragraphs, e.g., "It was a real boneshaker of a ride from beginning to end" or "It was a rattling good game". Speculate on the whereabouts of Stephen McLeod and Debbie Bonser these days. Click Publish, then link to Twitter. Forget to add the club names in your tweet, so that only your three regular followers ever see the tweet. Sit back and wait for the comments to come rolling in...]

Good luck with your report! I'll add in the details of the Third Round draw towards the end of the week. Other than Horndean, Folland Sports and United Services Portsmouth also bowed out today. AFC Portchester, Blackfield & Langley and Alresford Town all progressed to the last 64, so I shall be following one of them on December 6th.

Edit (Saturday 29th November): The Third Round draw sees no Hampshire clubs travel outside of the county for the second round running. Thus, I shall be paying a revisit to one of the following:

AFC Portchester v Tunbridge Wells
Alresford Town v Phoenix Sports
Blackfield & Langley v Highworth Town

Ascot United will host Newport (IoW) in a repeat of their tie from two seasons ago.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

FA Cup Diary: Eastleigh, Pompey and Havant & Waterlooville

A man you don't see every day at Westleigh Park - a BT Sport cameraman.
Random extracts from the diary of Hopping Around Hampshire, October - November 2014:

Saturday 25th October:

No football for me today. Family holiday in Pembrokeshire. Left early after breakfast of Rice Krispies. Drove through Letterston and caught a glimpse of a match going on. Checked on internet later and found it was Letterston Reserves v Solva Reserves, ended 0-3. Don't suppose that counts as a new ground. Good chippy in Letterston. Internet very slow here. HAH takes minutes to load. May cut number of articles per page down to one or two for readers on slow connections when I get back home. Will wait until tomorrow to find out cup scores - Havant & Waterlooville were away to Canvey Island today. Hope they won.

Sunday 26th October:

Nervous when I woke up. Should have checked cup scores on slow internet yesterday. Had nightmare that Hawks lost, woke up not knowing where I was in night, covered in sweat. Fry-up, toast with Marmite and Rice Krispies for breakfast. Checked paunch and could pinch more than an inch, so may not eat quite so much again this holiday. Wandered down to sea and saw six seals in local bay. One was very close inshore, possibly asleep in surf. Another was playing with a piece of seaweed. Cute. Bought Non-League Paper in St David's. Hawks drew cup match, as did Basingstoke, but other Hants clubs all won. Could be an interesting First Round draw tomorrow.

Respecting the war dead at Fratton Park.
Eastleigh FC (1) 2 v 1 (0) Lincoln City FC
Saturday 8th November 2014
FA Cup First Round Proper
Attendance: 873
Admission: £12
Programme: £2.50
Colours: Blue / white / blue v Red and white stripes / black / red
National Grid reference: SU4417

Portsmouth FC (1) 2 v 2 (1) Aldershot Town
Sunday 9th November 2014
FA Cup First Round Proper
Attendance: 11,095
Admission: £20
Programme: £3
Colours: Blue / white / red v Red / red / white
National Grid reference: SU6500 / SU6600 / SZ6699

Havant & Waterlooville (0) 0 v 3 (2) Preston North End
Monday 10th November 2014
FA Cup First Round Proper
Attendance: 2,382
Admission: £12
Programme: £2.50
Colours: White / dark blue / white v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU7207 / SU7208

New stand arising at Eastleigh FC.
Monday 27th October:

Nervous all day. What if Hawks draw Pompey in cup but then lose the replay against Canvey? What if they pull out a glamour tie and have to play on Sunday (Uncle Den's birthday party!)? Tried not to think about it. Breakfast was Rice Krispies and Alpen. Still paunchy, but felt a little more worthy after skipping the fry-up. Walked along a local clifftop. Took selfie, but looked too much like that Jermaine out of Flight of the Conchords. Deleted selfie. Had two beers before FA Cup draw on the telly to calm nerves. Pompey home to Aldershot - cracking derby. Hawks not drawn out until right near the end...home...choice of seven teams, but Preston were the glamour side left...yep, it was Preston! Tie of the round, and bound to be on the telly. Please Hawks, beat Canvey!

Tuesday 28th October:

Couldn't sleep last night. What if Hawks lose at home to Canvey Island? Went for a long walk along Newgale Sands. Took selfie. Looked like a cross between David Cameron and Wattie out of The Exploited - enormous Kryten-like forehead plus sticky-up mohican-ish hair not a good look. Deleted. Slow internet frustrating, but eventually got through to see that Hawks had won 3-0. Relieved.

Aldershot Town fans in Pompey's Milton End.
Wednesday 29th October:

Couldn't sleep last night. Hawks in tie of the round, bound to be on the telly. It's going to be Sunday, isn't it? Halifax v Bradford (the other standout tie) is certain to be the Monday game. The TV companies wouldn't make Preston fans drive for six hours on a Monday, would they? That would be stupid. Had a fry-up for breakfast to calm my nerves. Pinched a good two inches of paunch. Went for long walk to get rid of calories. More seals frollicking. Lucky seals, never have to worry about anything other than catching their fish supper.

Thursday 30th October:

Will the TV companies never announce their schedules?

Friday 31st October:

TV matches announced. Pompey and Gosport playing on Remembrance Sunday! Hawks on Monday, so at least I'll get to see them. It'll probably rain. Drove past Pembrokeshire League Goodwick United's little ground. Saw small stand. Craned neck round for better view. Woman walking along the pavement thought I was looking at her. Gave me a dirty look. As did wife.

The new covered terrace on the east side at Eastleigh FC.
Saturday 1st November:

Travelled home today. Picked up cats from cattery in Totton. Minty had no idea who we were after a week away. Brain transplant required. Tommy purred and recognised us. Drove past AFC Totton's ground whilst they were playing Hereford. Floodlights on, nearly crashed car into roundabout attempting to see more. Noticed driver in car behind roll his eyes and mutter something. As did family in own car.

Sunday 2nd November:

Had to go shopping for food. Looking for healthy breakfast alternatives, saw childhood favourite Golden Nuggets in Sainsbury's. Own-brand Boulders were cheaper, but settled on Honey Nut Cheerios instead, which were on offer. Bought Non-League Paper and spent the afternoon reading it, with Minty on my lap. Big fan of the NLP, is Minty. Counted total number of goals scored by Hampshire clubs over the weekend. Memorised the Bespoke Teamwear Dorset Premier League table, just in case anyone quizzes me on it during the week.

Tuesday 4th November:

Received phone call today to say that Uncle Den was poorly and that his birthday party had been postponed until the following week. This means that I can now go to Pompey on Sunday instead. Get well soon, Uncle Den! Decided to go to three cup matches over the weekend: Eastleigh v Lincoln City, Pompey v Aldershot Town and Havant & Waterlooville v Preston North End. Bonanza!

England superstar Kevin Davies pulls up his shorts at a packed Westleigh Park.
Saturday 8th November:

Good sleep last night. Cats behaved well - no climbing over torso or 3am miaowing. Must have known it was FA Cup day and I needed my sleep. Raining all morning. Would the Eastleigh match be off? Wouldn't be the first time I've turned up there only to find the ref had called the game off with minutes to go until kick-off. It was okay, game on, but rained heavily throughout. Eastleigh took an early lead and should have scored more in first half, kicking towards partly-built new stand at the motorway end. Ground much improved since last season with new covered terraces on the north and east sides. Lincoln the better side in the second half and deservedly equalised whilst I wasn't looking (busy counting the number of steps on the new terrace). Spitfires won the game in the last minute to send fans home happy. No derogatory songs about old friends Havant & Waterlooville - they preferred singing about defunct rivals Salisbury City instead. Took a selfie, but looked like a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Rebecca Adlington after a particularly wet swim. Deleted.

A puddle outside the entrance to Eastleigh's stadium.
Sunday 9th November:

Woken at 6am by caterwauling in garden. Minty and unknown black cat having a stand-off. Went back to sleep after he came in. Hooray for Sunday mornings! Breakfasted on Cheerios and raisins. Nice and healthy, and good job I did, as I forgot to have lunch. Only noticed when my tummy started rumbling after half-time at Fratton Park. Oh well, should help with the paunch. Nervous before match. Pompey have never lost against a non-league club in the FA Cup since entering the league themselves in 1920. Only West Ham of the long-serving Football League sides can say the same thing. Hair curly after soaking at Eastleigh. Looked like Harry Enfield scouser (without moustache). Didn't bother with a selfie. Aldershot fans raucous, as ever. Let off coloured smoke bombs after two minutes silence for war dead. Fratton smelt like bonfires. Looked like Pompey would win easily until Aldershot decided to start hassling them on the ball after half an hour. Pen to Pompey, equaliser for Shots just before half-time. All Shots second half. Deserved to go 2-1 up. Looked like Pompey's proud record was going to be history until Danny Hollands's looping header in front of the Fratton End with 15 minutes to go. Second booking for Robinson immediately afterwards and it was worry worry worry all the way to the end. Wish I was a seal, they have such an easy life.

Leaving Fratton Park after the derby day draw.
Monday 10th November:

Woke up with a surprising lack of nerves after a good sleep. There was work to get through, but after that, I visited my nan, who offered me an almost infinite number of Rich Tea biscuits. It would have been churlish not to accept. The paunch can stay until after Christmas now. Got to Westleigh Park as the Preston North End players' coach arrived. Stood and checked for famous players. Didn't recognise anybody. Perhaps England superstar Kevin Davies sneaked out of a back door and slipped past incognito. Bought shirt and badge from club shop. Walked past Jake Humphrey from Newsround and Tony Husband from South Today at celebrity-packed stadium. Jake is taller than Tony. Match kicked off, Preston scored, man near me yelled his appreciation. No-one else at the Hawks end did. Man said "I thought we had scored!?". He thought Hawks were playing in yellow. Missed Preston's second goal as I was watching a club official place a barrier around a cameraman behind the goal. North End 2% quicker, 2% cleverer, result never in doubt. Third goal near the end and two sendings-off. Concentrate on the league now. Preston fans enjoyed themselves doing the conga. Seemed like a good bunch. Took a selfie. Looked like George Clooney. Kept that one. Now just Pompey to worry about in their replay next Wednesday.

Floodlit Westleigh Park at night.
Over the weekend, Hampshire clubs scored a total of 48 goals.This was a significant total for me, but to find out why, you'll need to read my previous post.

There are many reports and pictures on the internet from the three matches I covered here. I won't link to any of them, as they'll be easy to find with the right search terms. What I did link to in the diary are Jake and Tony's personal websites. Not surprised that Jake has one, but I didn't expect Tony Husband to make the effort.

Back in two weeks with an FA Vase match, weather permitting.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

FA Vase 1st Round Proper Round-Up

Cup fever hits Swanage in the last round.
No match report from the First Round Proper of the FA Vase from me, as I was travelling back from a family holiday last Saturday when all the games were being played. I'm still following Hampshire clubs in the competition though, so this is what happened in my absence:

United Services Portsmouth, who won at Swanage in the previous round, beat Ringwood Town 3-1 at Long Lane to make them the lowest-ranked Hampshire club to reach the last 128. Fareham Town travelled to Dorset and bowed out 2-0 at Verwood Town. The only other Hants club to fall was (surprisingly) Winchester City, who lost 3-0 at home to Horndean. I had Winchester down as favourites to go all the way out of all the local clubs in the competition. What do I know?!

All the other clubs I'm following won, so that leaves six in the Second Round Proper on November 22nd. Monday's draw produced these ties:

Horndean v Ascot United
United Services Portsmouth v AFC Portchester
Blackfield & Langley v Bemerton Heath Harlequins
Alresford Town v Thame United
Folland Sports v AFC St Austell

Which leaves me in a quandary as to where to go in the next round! No-one was drawn away at somewhere exotic (I was hoping for a trip to Melksham Town or a picturesque Sussex County League ground - when I say "exotic", it's all relative...), and I've already covered United Services and Blackfield this season. As I say, quandary...

So, I've decided to leave the decision of where to go next to chance, in much the same way as my fellow-blogger Modus Hopper Random would. I'm going to total up all the goals scored by Hampshire clubs this weekend, from Saints in the Premiership, through all six clubs competing in the FA Cup First Round, and down through the leagues to Step 6 (Wessex One and Combined Counties One). As a guide, the total scored last weekend was 53.

I cut up a strip of paper in to five pieces. On each scrap of paper, I wrote one of the home clubs' names. I then put the clubs in to an old tin, shook the tin up, and pulled them out in a random order...

And so, if the total number of goals scored by Hampshire clubs this weekend (including Havant & Waterlooville on Monday) ends in a 0 or 5, I shall go to Follands;

1 or 6 - to Blackfield & Langley;

2 or 7 - to Alresford Town;

3 or 8 - to Horndean;

4 or 9 - to United Services.

If 53 goals are scored by Hampshire clubs again this weekend, I shall be visiting Horndean on 22nd November, but if 54 goals are rattled in, I shall be fighting my way through the Christmas shoppers to USP, and so on...

This is exciting.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Fleetlands v Overton United

A friendly welcome from the railings at Fleetlands FC.
Looking back now, I believe I made the wrong decision. Aged 11 and fresh in to Big School, I was given the choice of joining any one of the school cadet forces.

There was the Army, but this would have involved far too much yomping and polishing of boots until I could see my zitty face in them. But then again, I would have had the opportunity to play with guns in the school rifle range...but no, there's no way there would have been any "playing" - it would have all been strictly regulated by the humourless teacher-officers. Not the Army then.

The next option would have been the Navy cadets. Except I didn't like being in water very much and swum like a brick. Sailing would have been cool, but falling in the sea and drowning wouldn't have been.

What else? Well, there were the community service kids, but all they did was visit old people's homes and sing and dance for the residents. Maybe help out with meals on wheels. Very worthy, and possibly what I should have chosen with hindsight, but deeply uncool. And as a young Clash fan, this mattered. If only they'd taken a record player in to the homes and spun the residents some coloured vinyl punk 7"s, I'd have been there like a shot!

Which only left one option...

One of the two brick-built covered areas at Fleetlands FC.
Fleetlands FC (3) 4 v 3 (0) Overton United FC
Saturday 18th October 2014
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier League Senior Division
Attendance: 24 (headcount)
Admission: £0
Programme: None
Colours: Red / black / black v Purple and white stripes / white / blue
National Grid reference: SU5804

Portsdown Hill, yacht masts in Fareham Lake, and a windsock (but no helicopters).
The Air Force cadets only realistic option. They promised that we'd fly a plane at some point during our five years at senior school, so as a big fan of Captain W.E. Johns' Biggles stories, this was appealing to the 11-year-old me.

Heroic Biggles would jump in to an old biplane, turn the ignition key, yank his joystick back and fly off over France shooting down Germans left, right and centre. Get up above the enemy (preferably hiding inside a handy cloud) and then swoop down on them out of the sun - the element of surprise - this was his secret. Brave and exciting, this could have been me by the time I'd reached sixth form.

The NHS specs and rampant spots would be a thing of the past as I strolled into the common room, nonchalantly sweeping a lengthy scarf over my shoulder, goggles resting on top of my head, effortlessly showing off my broad-lapelled leather flying jacket covered in shiny medals. Girls would shyly smile and blush; boys would offer me cigarettes and whisky. Everyone would gather round and listen to my stories of derring-do.

Yes, it was the Air Force for me!

A cheeky chimney pokes up above the trees.
Air Force cadets sounded great in theory, but what actually happened? Well, we spent interminable hours/weeks/months hunched over books of flying theory ("...ailerons have to be at an angle of 16 degrees before a plane can take off..."); even more interminable time polishing our unbelievably uncomfortable boots (it wasn't just the army cadets who had to do that - oh, the blisters!); and marching and yomping, marching and yomping - until news eventually came through that the school glider would be coming out of its hangar the following week!

The school glider was a flimsy thing, apparently made out of balsa wood and stuck together with Uhu. It only "flew" when a group of boys tugged on a series of ropes attached to the front, and then ran fast enough so that the plane could get up enough speed so that the boy in the cockpit could haul his joystick back so that the ailerons would flip to 16 degrees and the glider would "take off", at which point, the boys tugging the ropes had to dive out of the way in fear of their lives as the balsa wood menace picked up speed and headed straight towards them...

It came to my turn. Years of practical theory spinning round in my frazzled head, I grabbed the joystick as the glider picked up speed...and yanked it the wrong way. Instead of taking off, the glider's nose dived downwards, sticking into the soft earth like a pathetic javelin. I was never allowed near that flying machine again.

If only the school had had a helicopter instead. How hard can it be to drive one of those?!

The chase is on inside Overton United's penalty area!
Helicopters were something I knew all about from playing endless games of Top Trumps (specifically Dubreq Series 2). I knew that the Soviet transport helicopter Mil-Mi 12 couldn't be beaten on engine size, but our brave Westland Sea King 'copter could win on height, as the Russian's height was so secret, it was "not known".

Travelling to Fleetlands on Saturday, I was thinking about those old helicopters and wondering if I might see one during the match, as the football ground is situated within an MOD helicopter site. Indeed, one of the first things you see as you drive into the complex is a windsock. I can't think of any other football grounds with windsocks, so I'm going to say that this is unique (unless anyone knows any different...). Beyond the windsock (and out of bounds) are seven helipads and a control tower. Surely a helicopter might land or take off during the match?

They've seen something up there. A helicopter perhaps?
I chose to go to Fleetlands for my first Hampshire Premier League report because it had rained so much during the week, and I knew that there were two whitewashed brick-built shelters at the ground. Cover is important to me. I don't care if I can't sit down at a match. I don't care if there's no hard standing and my shoes get muddy. I do care if I get wet, so a covered area is essential for me.

Doing a bit of research, I understand that there are sheltered areas at the following clubs below the Wessex League (where the ground-graders make cover mandatory): Fleetlands, AFC Stoneham, Winchester Castle, Stockbridge, Sway, and Alton United. I'm sure there must be others with something other than an overhanging roof outside the clubhouse? If you know of any other Step 7 or below grounds in Hampshire with shelter, let me know in the Comments below or via my Twitter account. As I've visited all clubs within the county down to Step 6 and written about them (the initial aim of this blog), it would be nice to visit any others where I can keep dry!

A congratulatory hair ruffle for the scorer of Fleetlands' fourth goal. Hashtag windsock.
There was no programme, no names written on a whiteboard, and no match report elsewhere that I'm aware of, so I apologise for not knowing any of the goalscorers' names. Fleetlands scored within two minutes of the kick-off with a slow-moving precision dribbler in to the bottom right-hand corner, wrong-footing Overton's custodian. It was the sort of finely-engineered shot that I'd expect to see at a helicopter base.

Several players had to change their boots after the first goal as their studs were "sinking right in". With correct studs for the conditions, the match settled down in to an entertaining end to end contest, both sides having many chances to score. Fleetlands notched two more before half-time, which was harsh on the visitors.

I had a free cup of tea at the interval courtesy of a kind gentleman who saw me taking photos and referred to me as "a football nut - we used to get a lot of those!" If he reads this, I'd like to say thank you to him again - I appreciated your generosity. As Fleetlands rely entirely on their bar takings to keep the club going, I went back to the clubhouse later and spent some money on a chocolate bar.

The second-half was all action as goals flew in at regular intervals. Overton scored the two best goals of the contest to come back to 2-3 (a 20-yarder and a clever cut inside and shot past the keeper). The home side (wearing their brand new kit for the first time) then extended their lead to 4-2 when their number 10 chipped the Overton keeper, hit the bar, and number 8 followed in on the rebound with a header in to the unguarded net. Three minutes later, Overton came back to 3-4 with a low direct free-kick from 25 yards, but that was that for goals.

Fleetlands won, but as one of their players shouted at the final whistle, "we made hard work of that!"

A view from the woods.
No helicopters landed during the match. No helicopters took off. There was a disappointing overall lack of helicopter action. However, for on-pitch entertainment, I was in the right place, as shot after shot rained in on either goal and the match could have gone either way. A good afternoon out, and I needn't have worried about the rain, as the sun shone for pretty much the entire time I was there!

November's match reports will be for games on the 8th and 22nd of the month. I have no idea where I'll be going yet though.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Swanage Town & Herston v United Services Portsmouth

Bargain! Four quid for two hours-plus entertainment at Swanage Town & Herston FC! And the first of at least four non-league dogs in the featured photos (beware: the rest are tiny little pixellated dogs).
Crumbly and delicious, like a freshly-made rock cake. Or a lemon drizzle, chocolate sponge, coffee & walnut, carrot cake, Viennese whirl, Victoria sponge, a child's birthday cake in the shape of Thunderbird 2 or The Hungry Caterpillar [or insert your own favourite cake here, whether it's been made by your mum, your eight-year-old son or even shop-bought in a Mr Kipling cardboard box...].

Crumbly and majestic, like an ancient cathedral dominating the landscape for miles and miles around (think Salisbury here). Or the more humble parish church, built by the Normans and patched up, loved and cared for by forty generations of villagers. Or perhaps an Industrial Revolution cotton mill in a northern town, all dark and satanic and broken now, but making all the surrounding houses look like Lego toys in comparison.

Crumbly and ghost-like, an old football ground, with so many stories to tell of times past - of cloth-capped men and waistcoated boys arriving by clapped out bicycle and charabanc - filling all the available space (and more, spilling over the outer walls and onto the pitch), smoking extra-strength, high-tar cigarettes, filling the air with wispy smoke and telling music hall jokes. Waving rattles, laughing, coughing and just happy to be with their mates away from the hard labour of their day jobs.

US Portsmouth traipse down the steps from the elevated dressing rooms at Swanage.
Swanage Town & Herston FC (1) 1 v 1 (1) United Services Portsmouth FC (aet: 3-4 on pens)
Saturday 4th October 2014
FA Carling Vase 2nd Qualifying Round
Attendance: 120-130
Admission: £4
Programme: 50p
Colours: White / black / black & white hoops v Red and blue stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SZ0279 / SZ0280

The seated stand at Swanage Town & Herston FC.
Crumbly and ghost-like. Swanage's old terrace has stories to tell. Lay down on one of the steps and put your ear to the concrete. It will whisper to you of times past - Boxing Day matches with Wareham Rangers when the place was heaving. Their local rivals would have arrived by steam train via the Purbeck branch line (recently restored and open to the public). Breathing in the sweet steam as the locomotive rattled down the track, clickety-clacking its way to the seaside, the men of Wareham would be dreaming of victory, of revenge for the previous year's 6-5 defeat when Dennis "Dixie" Daniels scored a hat-trick in each half for the Swans.*

500 Brylcreemed men dressed in sombre jackets watching from the terrace, 1,000 eyes following every movement, left, right, up and down again, keeping dry under the newly-erected tin roof as the southerly wind brings a fresh gale in from the Channel. The players, in black and white, in baggy shorts and buttoned collars, struggling through the mudbath in their leaden, rain-sodden boots, lashed down to the syrupy, soupy gloop where once there was grass.

Opposite the terrace, a new stand, a penny extra to sit down for the well-to-do in their bowler hats and expensive raincoats, smoking pipes and cigars (it's Christmas, after all). New wooden tip-up seats for the elderly and war-wounded. Space for walking sticks and wooden legs to stretch out in the front row.

This was Swanage in the 1940s.

* I made all this up - please don't add it to Wikipedia! Thanks.

Those steps are a bit steep for that pram...ready, steady, lift!
Swanage in 2014, and nothing much has changed. The clothes, the players' boots, the opposition perhaps, but the ground hasn't changed much at all since the old days. The old boys are still here (although they would have been the youngsters in the 1940s - cheeky lads delivering papers before the match to earn their tuppence entry fee). These days the old fellas sit in their cars and watch from the hill behind the near goal, keeping warm and cosy, chatting to one another about the great games and players of their youth. And anyway, those steps are a bit too much these days - the car it shall have to be...

Where would you rather be? At this old ground that oozes charm and memories, or a modern, functional arena with its executive boxes and identikit views from wherever you sit? A football ground with all the personality of an open plan office, the equivalent of a plain Ryvita, or here...this delicious, crumbly Victoria sponge of a football ground?

I know which I prefer.

Watching from the whispering terrace in the sunshine as United Services take a crack at the goal.
Great ground, and the entertainment on the pitch wasn't so bad. The players entered the arena via some steps which lead down from their first-floor changing rooms. And did they enter the fray with Simply The Best blaring out over the tannoy? No, they did not! The introductory tune was Panic by The Smiths! With half-time bringing us The Stone Roses and The Cure, it was indie disco time down at Day's Park. Panic on the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee, Humberside...

And panic in US Portsmouth's defence after 15 minutes, as The Swans' left-back Chris Stratford jinked past half the opposition in a manner that Eden Hazard would have been proud of. His cross-shot was palmed out by Services' keeper Peter Houlkes straight to the incoming Graeme Rose, who poked the ball home from six yards.

Dorset Premier League Swanage (playing against a team from one step higher) conceded the equaliser at the Stone Bench End after 38 minutes, Callum Coker's shot being deflected under the 17-year-old home keeper Taylor Hibbs by an unfortunate defender - the ball's parabola being like a capital letter N as it first rose, then caught the defender's heel, bouncing down and hitting the ground underneath Swanage's young custodian, before bouncing up again in to the goal net.

There was still time for the Swans to hit the post before the half-time indie disco started with an awkward en masse shoe-staring shuffling "dance" enacted by several crowd members of "a certain age" to The Cure's Caterpillar (or possibly Love Cats, I can't remember the actual song...pretty sure it wasn't Bananafishbones though).

The three stone benches behind the far goal were popular.
No more goals before the penalties at the end, but still plenty happening. There was a looping shot from USP that clunked against the bar, immediately followed by a thunderball which was saved one-handed by the teenage stopper. Then, within a minute, United Services thought they'd scored, but the referee decided the goal was offside without any flag being raised by the lino. Apparently, he said afterwards that it was so blatant, he couldn't not give it.

Ninety minutes up and the players huddling around their respective bosses waiting for extra-time to start, I looked for a toilet. Not finding an obvious one, I went into what I thought was an abandoned referee's changing room, where there was indeed a functioning loo. Inside, there was a half-empty bottle of absinthe on the cistern. Not seen that before at the football...

Other than a sending off for a second foul for Swanage's Jack Watson, extra-time was uneventful until the final seconds, when the Swans hit the post from close range, the ball bouncing back in to the arms of USP's emotional keeper. And that was that.

A panoramic view featuring the crumbly old terrace on the right.
The draw for the First Round Proper was made on Monday. The following Hampshire clubs failed to make it through: Eversley & California, Hartley Wintney, Tadley-Calleva, Andover Town, Petersfield Town, New Milton Town, Moneyfields, and Whitchurch United. Either Horndean or Lymington Town will join them in the "what might have been" pile after their Tuesday evening replay.

Five clubs won on Saturday, with Folland Sports joining in after receiving byes up to this point. The draw:

Ringwood Town v United Services Portsmouth
Verwood Town v Fareham Town
Winchester City v Horndean or Lymington Town
AFC Portchester v Reading Town
Folland Sports v Sherborne Town

Alresford Town and Blackfield & Langley will presumably enter in the following round, receiving byes due to their high league positions last season.

The conquerors of Hythe & Dibden from my previous Vase report, Amesbury Town, lost to Longwell Green Sports on Saturday to join the disappointingly long list of Wessex League clubs who fell at this latest hurdle.

United Services Portsmouth score one of their four successful penalties in the shootout. The Purbeck Hills in the background.

You thought I'd forgotten the penalty shootout, didn't you? Just teasing.

Fourteen penalties, four saved (two by each keeper), two sidefooted past the post (one each), and one blasted over the bar by Swanage.

The Swans started badly, going 2-0 down. At this stage, they were like dying swans, eyes glazing over as they were seemingly trapped by a careless fisherman's lead weight and line, sinking lower and lower into the watery deep. It was at this apparently hopeless moment that the young Hibbs made his two acrobatic saves and his team-mates responded by scoring three in a row to go 3-2 up.

The dying swans were suddenly alive again and favourites to win! If USP's left-back had missed the next penalty, the Dorset underdogs would have gone through to the First Round Proper. Of course, he didn't (see the pic above). It was 3-3, but United Services' keeper took off, bounding up towards the halfway line towards his puzzled team-mates. He soon stopped bounding when he realised his team hadn't actually won yet. "Er, I thought it was all over..." he explained to the crowd behind the goal upon his return. Sheepishly.

He didn't have to wait much longer as Swanage missed, then the next pen was converted to make it 4-3, and this time his mates came rushing towards him for a mutual congratulatory man hug.

A match report from Swanage Town & Herston's award-winning website can be read here. Includes lots of photos. Another report from the Swanage & Wareham Advertiser can be seen here.

Relief and joy for United Services Portsmouth, 4-3 winners on penalties.

Well, the draw was made for the next round, giving me a choice of five matches, but I have other commitments that day, so I can't make it to any of them. Unless, unless...unless it pours down with rain on November 1st and at least one match is postponed and played the following Saturday! Would it be so bad if I crossed my fingers and wished for that to happen?

My next report will be in a fortnight. I've been to a step 7 ground in I'm tempted to go to a Hampshire Premier League match on 18th October. But I might change my mind.