Sunday, 9 March 2014

Sholing v Wisbech Town

It's the March To The Arch at Sholing FC.
From Prickwillow and Parson Drove they came. From Mepal and Manea. From Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen, Wimblington and Wisbech, the Fenmen drove down to Southampton in their coaches, cars and jalopies. Rumbling along crumbling Fenland lanes at 25mph, high and dry above the shrinking peat farmland criss-crossed by a million drains, pumps and sluices, funnelling all the excess water back to the sea where it belongs.

To the M11, the superfast motorway to that there London. Around the M25, the Highway to Hell, thence to junction 12 and the M3. Tootling through Surrey at 70mph, being overtaken by impatient stockbrokers in their BMW and Audi convertibles, all lined up in the outside lane, nose to tail, in a hurry to go wherever it is that the people of Surrey go on a Saturday lunchtime.

From the flatlands they came, where a molehill looks like Everest, one hundred Fenmen, four hours on the road, driving to Southampton to cheer and wave on their team in the quarter-finals of the FA Vase. Two rounds from Wembley. Everything to play for...

Foxxy and Woofy shake hands pre-match.
Sholing FC (1) 1 v 0 (0) Wisbech Town FC
Saturday 8th March 2014
FA Carlsberg Vase Quarter-Final
Attendance: 426 (looked more than that!)
Admission: £5
Programme: £2
Colours: Red and white stripes / black / red and white stripes v Yellow / green / yellow
National Grid reference: SU4610

Wisbech's Woofy the Fenhound wanders around the pitch to meet up with his fellow fans behind the goal.
The road from Bitterne to Sholing resembles waves from the Southern Ocean, frozen in time and tarmacced over. Enough to make a land-lubbering Fenman feel seasick. It flattens out as you reach the Silverlake Arena, Sholing FC's home ground. Time to steady those sea legs.

I started following Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase at Hythe & Dibden back in September. Then via Bracknell Town, Kidlington, Odd Down (Bath), Moneyfields and Sholing, then missing a round, it's back to Sholing again for a quarter-final tie - the first Hampshire side to get this far since AFC Totton in 2007. The Boatmen's big rivals from the west of the city went on to reach the final against Truro City. Can Sholing do the same?

Here's a short report from Saturday...

Shadows tell the story of the big crowd at Sholing on Saturday.
It was a super sunny Spring Saturday for the two sides. With Saints away from home, a big crowd was expected. There were certainly an awful lot of cars on the field outside the ground - it resembled a particularly busy Sunday boot sale. The yellow and orange-jacketed helpers were needed to point the numerous first-time visitors to their parking spaces. The car park had been under water just three weeks previously, so it was still welly boot muddy. Nobody got stuck though.

A familiar sight over the last few seasons - Lee Wort celebrates another goal.
The crowd were tightly-packed around the perimeter. They say that a thousand people can stand around a football pitch without needing to stand in each other's way. Other than an empty end (due to the bright low sun shining straight into the eyes of anyone who stood there), it was packed. Busy busy busy.

Sholing's Ultras were in fine fettle. All their songs had been polished up for the big occasion:

"We are Sholing, Super Sholing, We're from Sholing, No-one likes us, We don't care..." I think that's how their favourite chant goes.

Despite appearances to the contrary, this Wisbech defender was booting the ball out of play, and not Marvin McLean.
The two sides were well matched. Sholing scored the only goal after 29 minutes when Lee Wort chased a long ball over the top of Wisbech's hesitant defence. The goalie came outside of his area to cut off the danger, but dazzled by the sun, he was too late. Wort knocked the ball to the keeper's right and rolled it in to the empty net almost in the same movement. He wheeled away with his arms stretched out like tattooed angel's wings before the ball had even crossed the line. He's scored so many, he knows...he just knows.

"...and in the Bundesliga, it's Borussia Monchengladbach 1, Augsburg 0..." Reading out the half-time scores at Sholing.
In an even match, Wisbech's Reed hit the woodwork twice - once just before half-time with a rocket from the right, and again 15 minutes from time with an explosive right-footer from 30 yards out. If either of those had gone in, I wouldn't like to say who would have won. It may even have gone to a replay in Cambridgeshire next week.

I don't know if Wisbech's mascot was actually called Woofy the Fenhound (I made that up), but he should be holding his tail aloft, erect and proud. His team played well and could have easily won. That didn't happen though.

Hampshire's Sholing are in the semi-final draw with Leicestershire's St Andrews, Sussex's Eastbourne United Association, and Durham's West Auckland. We'll find out tomorrow morning who their opponents will be over two legs on March 29th and April 5th. Good luck to them.

[Edit: Sholing have been drawn at home to Eastbourne United Association, travelling to Sussex for the second leg]

The Sholing Ultras' stand, as seen through a goal net.
Lots more pictures from the match can be found on Sholing's website here. And from the Eastern Daily Press here. And from photographer Giant Jakey on Flickr here.

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