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.