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