Monday, 2 March 2015

Liphook United v AFC Stoneham

Liphook United Football Club.
Back in the days when men were employed to read out destinations over the tannoy at railway stations, I used to catch the train to school every day from Havant Station. I heard the following refrain so often that I can recite all the stations between Havant and Waterloo even now:

"This train will call at Rowlands Castle, Petersfield, Liss, Liphook, Haslemere, Witley, Milford, Godalming, Farncombe, and so on and so forth*". Something that I learnt off by heart as a child, like The Lord's Prayer or the roll call of firemen from Trumpton (Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb).

Well, I knew Rowlands Castle well enough - it was only a mile or so from my home in Leigh Park - an easy stroll away. Petersfield - that was where my school was, so I could find my way around there. But beyond Petersfield, it was all something of a mystery. I never had any need to go to Liss, Liphook, Haslemere et al, so all I could do was just imagine what all these places were like.

* The station announcer didn't actually say "and so on and so forth" - that was just me being lazy.

Plastic sheeting to keep the derriere dry; an umbrella to keep drizzle off the knees. Watching Liphook United from the seated area on the bank behind the goal.
Liphook United FC (0) 1 v 1 (0) AFC Stoneham
Saturday 28th February 2015
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Attendance: About 40
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: All blue v Pink / black / black
National Grid reference: SU8431

Corner for AFC Stoneham, with Liphook Methodist Church as the backdrop.
And so, I'm an old man now, but I'd still never been to Liphook before Saturday. Me-as-a-boy would play with the words, roll them around the tongue and run wild with my imagination:

Lip - smiling, kissing, talking, spitting, don't give me any of your lip sunshine, edge of a chasm with red-hot lava boiling and a-bubbling hundreds of feet below - don't slip, don't fall...

Hook - catching a fish, a pirate's hand, the bit with the tune in a song...

A town with a volcano, populated almost entirely by pirates! Sounded quite exciting to me-as-a-boy.

What I certainly wouldn't have imagined at that age was an ordinary, pleasant village in East Hampshire, with normal people going about their everyday business in a normal way. Shopping for bread, watching TV, cleaning the oven, taking selfies, having a cup of tea - just like everywhere else.

Stoneham's keeper puts some welly into this goal kick.
Visiting Liphook as a 12-year-old boy - with its disappointing lack of pirates and volcanoes - would not have been very appealing. However, now I'm older and wiser and know everywhere is pretty much the same wherever I go, I spent all week looking forward to my afternoon out in the village anyway.

It would have been the ideal opportunity to take up the same hobby as one of the contestants on Only Connect earlier in the week - someone who had visited two-thirds of the places in Britain where three county boundaries meet. This phenomenon happens just to the east of Liphook at a place called Hammer Bottom - the boundaries between Hampshire, West Sussex and Surrey all meet here. Not sure what I would have done when I'd got there - like many other people, I've arrived at a county boundary and put one foot on one side of the line and the other foot on the other side and felt the thrill of being in two counties at once (or even better, a US state boundary - there's a photo of me somewhere with one foot in Wyoming and one in Montana - I couldn't have been happier right at that moment).

Anyway, what do you do when you want to be in three counties all at once? I'm guessing that at Hammer Bottom, you'd have to put one hand on the ground in Surrey, a foot in Sussex and the other in Hampshire in some kind of weird geographical Twister pose, whilst hoping that there were no holes in embarrassing places in your jeans and that no-one was watching.

Heads up, check to see who's free in the box before crossing.
The geographical Twister will have to wait for another day, as I had football instead on Saturday. The match was between the teams sitting in third and fourth places in the Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division. Liphook United had been champions two seasons running in 2012 and 2013, whilst Eastleigh's AFC Stoneham had finished as runners-up in 2014. There is little chance of either winning the league this season, as Hamble Club have only dropped three points since August, but there could still be a big prize at the end of 2014/15 for AFC Stoneham: promotion to the Wessex League.

At this level, clubs have to apply to the FA Leagues Committee if they wish to move on up a step. Their ground is inspected, and if it passes the inspection, they then have to both finish in the top five of their league, and be the highest-placed club within that league to have applied and been passed fit for promotion by the Leagues Committee.

To pass the inspection, AFC Stoneham will have to meet several criteria: they will need to have a railed off pitch; floodlights of a certain lux; covered seating; hard standing all the way around the ground; and their changing rooms and toilet facilities must be up to scratch. If they fall just short, they may be allowed up and given some grace until the following March to get everything together, so long as they can prove they have plans in place to complete the work.

A workmate who is secretary for a club at the same level as Liphook and Stoneham told me it would cost his club £100,000 to be promoted. His club won't bother, as the increase in gates and sponsorship would never cover the costs - they are happy with their role in the community in their village, giving several age-group teams the chance to play football and keep fit. The men's first team are a minor consideration for them.

Congratulations after Liphook's goal...
To be promoted, AFC Stoneham will have to finish above Portsmouth's Baffins Milton Rovers this season, who are the other club from the league to apply to the Leagues Committee. On their showing on Saturday, I would say that Stoneham would easily hold their own in the Wessex League Division One (as would Liphook United, but they haven't applied for promotion).

When I watch football at different levels, I compare the teams that I see by my own grading system:

Usually, players at Wessex League Division One teams are "Better than me". At the next level up, players tend to be "Much better than me". In the Southern League, "Much, much better than me", and so on, until reaching the Premiership, when they should be "Stratospherically better than me" (with the exception of a few of the lesser-known duffers that Harry Redknapp brought to Pompey, who were definitely "Crapper than me"). Of course, this grading system applies to a fit me from twenty years ago - I'm nearly at Walking Football age now.

On my grading system, Liphook United and AFC Stoneham were generally either at "Much..." or "Much, much..." level in this hard-fought, entertaining game. Both sides hit the bar in the first half on a pitch that was in tip-top condition considering the amount of postponements due to waterlogging at nearby grounds. The players deserved their half-time oranges, which had been neatly prepared for them by the lady in the clubhouse tea bar - all piled up in a Pyrex bowl and covered with Klingfilm to keep them fresh and juicy.

...but ten minutes later, AFC Stoneham equalise with this shot.
There are no floodlights, no cover for spectators, and no hard standing around the pitch at Liphook (apart from the public paths that happen to run alongside the pitch). I'm guessing that gaining planning permission for floodlights, in particular, would be very difficult at their current village centre location (even though the tennis courts at the same facility have them). Thus, the club are looking to move in order to progress and provide better facilities for the football-playing members of the village.

There are plans for a new football facility in Liphook to be found at this web address. If you live locally, the club would dearly love you to sign in to the planning department's website and register your support. But they also need financial support to realise their dream. They already own the land where the football pitches will be situated, given to them by a generous benefactor, but amongst other things, they will have to provide a new access road to the site at Bohunt Manor. This will not be cheap. So, in the unlikely event of anybody reading this having a large amount of cash to spare, they would love to hear from you!

Opponents AFC Stoneham also have plans to move, but I'll leave the story of that until another time (see their website if you want to know more).

Open this gate to enter the wonderful world of non-league football.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be a match report. So let's get back to the game. I noticed that Harry Munt has followed me on Twitter over the weekend (Hopping Around Hants @AndrewRocklob). I think he's waiting for me to describe his goal. If you've read this far Harry, here it is...

I'd like to tell you that Harry's goal was a wonder goal, one of the best I've ever seen. I'd like to say it was up there with Maradona's famous goal versus England in the 1986 World Cup (not the cheating handball - the other one). I'd love to say that Harry picked up the ball on the halfway line, and that there was only one thing on his mind. One of his team-mates had told him that there was a scout from Shrewsbury Town in the audience, and that he'd come specifically to watch Harry. It was his big moment to impress, to win that professional contract that he'd always dreamed about.

He spun round, and in one dazzling movement, backheeled the ball away from two Stoneham defenders, leaving them flat on the ground like Terry Fenwick and Ray Wilkins in '86. Harry then motored forward, bamboozling the men in map cover pink with his skills. He went past three Stoneham defenders, to the left, to the right, back to the left again, then a fourth man, then a fifth, but none of them could touch him. They would dive in, but Harry would be gone. Suddenly, he was one-on-one with the terrified keeper. He knew this was his time. The goalie stood no chance, as Harry skipped past his flailing arms with the ball glued to his feet. The ball was in the back of the net before Stoneham's keeper knew what had happened. Harry wheeled away and headed towards his beaming manager, arms aloft, glancing sideways at the furiously scribbling scout...

I'd like to tell my readers about this incredible goal, but there were witnesses to say that it never happened. There were 22 players; substitutes and coaches; a referee and two club linesmen; there were 30-40 committee members, friends, relatives, girlfriends, children and random strangers watching from the sidelines; and there was the old lady taking her westie for a walk over by the nursery. They all saw what really happened. Apart from me. I was watching the dog sniffing a telegraph pole and wondering whether to snap it and send it to Non-League Dogs (I didn't).

So I don't know how the ball found itself at Harry Munt's feet, 15 yards from goal with no-one in front of him. Two steps forward and a sidefoot into the empty net. As I hadn't been concentrating on the game, maybe, just maybe, what I'd previously described had actually happened and I hadn't seen it...?

Ten minutes later, AFC Stoneham's centre-forward Luke Musselwhite picked up a loose ball on the edge of Liphook's box and rolled it into the net to the home keeper's left.

1-1, and a fair result.

Liphook United players tidy up after the match.
If I was going to give out awards for tea-making this season, Liphook's cuppa would be the current favourite - freshly-made, in a mug, and with just the right amount of milk. And at 50p, a bargain! And the sandwiches on the table by the changing rooms looked delicious. Not made for me, sadly, but for the players and committee members to enjoy post-match. Cheese, ham, a choice of white or brown bread, all peeking out from under a table cloth, teasing me. I had to make do with a Mars Bar instead - at 50p, another bargain!

So, that was my second visit to a Hampshire League club this season (Fleetlands was the other). Both were most enjoyable. I have a spare day in my hopping plans on April 11th - I may well return to this league on that day if there's an appealing fixture.

Thank you to everyone at Liphook for being so friendly to the slightly odd bloke with the camera - I don't think I've ever spoken to so many erstwhile strangers at a match before. Good luck for the rest of the season and with the plans for the new ground.

Finally, I have entered the picture above in to a national photo competition. The organisers of Non-League Day are giving away tickets to the competition winners for the FA Trophy final at Wembley on March 29th. The best entries will also be printed in the matchday programme and shown on the big screens within the stadium. If you wish to enter, take a photo at a non-league match at any time up to next Saturday (March 7th) and follow the instructions on this link. Who knows? Liphook United's full-backs could be up on the big screens at Wembley at the end of the month, as could one of your own pictures!

I'll be back in two weeks with a report from a Wessex League ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment