Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Swindon Supermarine v Fleet Town

Swindon Supermarine FC beckon drivers to the Webbswood Stadium with this sign on the nearby roundabout.
It was one of those jaw-dropping moments...stood outside Wembley Stadium, desperately trying to rid our manbags of all signs of food or drink before being searched at the turnstiles for anything from apples to guns (or any of the twenty-odd other things that are banned from the stadium on a match day), when it suddenly appeared with no prior warning...

Up on the screen, beneath the arch, my photo was showing, advertising the FA Trophy Final! An actual photograph that I'd taken...me, I took that! With my finger...that finger there...on my hand...oh, my goodness (or words to that effect)...

Cola spilling from my lips, sticky drink can hurled towards my son, a fumble in my coat pocket, unzip the camera bag...don't go away, don't disappear, not before I can take a picture! Camera on, point, click...it was still there! My photo, up there, on the screen outside Wembley!

The jaw-dropping moment when Liphook United appeared outside Wembley.
Swindon Supermarine FC (1) 3 v 0 (0) Fleet Town FC
Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South & West
Saturday 28th March 2015
Attendance: 124
Admission: £9
Programme: £2
Colours: All blue v Gold / black / black
National Grid reference: SU1889

Swindon Supermarine's oldest structure.
If you know me, you'll know that I was one of the winners of the #myfanphoto competition (I have gone on about it a bit over the last few weeks...), run by the organisers of Non-League Day. Ten people won a pair of tickets each to Sunday's FA Trophy Final between North Ferriby United and Wrexham. Not only did we win free tickets, but our photos were to be shown on the big screens inside Wembley and were to be printed in the matchday programme.

I'd already bought the programme and found my stamp-sized photo. Nice, but I've seen my photos printed in other programmes and books before, so it was a relatively minor thrill. My main concern was to keep the rain off of the programme so that I could file it away next to my Got, Not Got books in my home football library.

Scoffing our hot cross buns down in the drizzle, I just wasn't expecting the parade of mobile phone operator ads outside the stadium to be interrupted by my photo, which could be seen all the way down Wembley Way by the hundreds, maybe thousands of people making their way up from Wembley Park Station. Liphook United's full-backs, that was you up there! That was you, summing up the camaradarie of non-league football in a picture. That was you, representing the thousands of amateur footballers out there who play the game for enjoyment, win or lose, week after week throughout the season. That was you, where Kane and Rooney had been two nights previously - it was your turn. Famous for thirty seconds!

And a newer stand next to the older one.
I was buzzing like the bees in the Arkell's ad at Swindon Supermarine the day before (see bottom photo). The Liphook photo appeared again on the screens inside the stadium twenty minutes before kick-off accompanied by a commentary from the Wembley DJ. No idea what he said about my effort - I was still whirling more than a Wurlitzer on a Curly Wurly-fied whirligig.

And then the match started...Wrexham were 2-0 up with fifteen minutes to go. The green-clad Yorkshiremen behind us were urging everyone to stand up for the Ferriby. It worked like a charm, as the underdogs scored twice to take the match in to extra-time...

But I'm not supposed to be writing about that match here. This should have been all about Fleet Town's trip to Swindon Supermarine...and so it shall be from now on in...

Supermarine is one of those places that I've always wanted to visit, purely for their name. I drove past their ground on the way back from Lancashire in the autumn and timed how long it would take me to get there from Southampton - just over an hour - a very reasonable time. So, when Fleet Town were due to play there - and with Fleet not having featured on HAH for four years - I decided it was time to go to north Wiltshire.

Behind the goal, a homemade standing area.
It rained all the way to Swindon. At every match I've reported on in 2015, the sun has failed to shine, so I wasn't surprised. I went through the turnstile. I bought a badge at the club shop immediately in front of the turnstile. The friendly fellow running the club shop hadn't put his wares on display due to the horizontal rain blowing straight in to his little hut. Shame, because I would have liked to have seen the Supermarine beanie hats (as advertised on their website). I suspect the club shop is the only place in the entire world where you can buy a Swindon Supermarine beanie hat.

To the right of the club shop is the oldest structure in the ground - a small stand with fifty or so red plastic seats without backs. This stand moved with the club from a neighbouring pitch when they were formed in 1992 via a merger between Supermarine and Swindon Athletic (formerly Penhill). I sat in the stand drinking a nice warm cup of tea whilst waiting for kick-off. To my left was a DJ table with a pile of Now That's What I call Music CDs. To my right was a metal table for the local pressman to lean his laptop upon. Dotted around me were other early arrivals, greeting each other and chatting about Swindon Town's promotion prospects. It was all very affable.

At five minutes to three, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out! It was one of those little miracles that make you believe in some sort of ancient football/weather god. The announcer read out the teams "very slowly for my Pompey-supporting friend who likes to write down the players' names in his programme" (which made it two Pompey fans in that little stand!). Then he played a familiar ditty as the two teams walked on to the pitch - the Match of the Day theme tune. Supermarine's players had evidently heard this before, but Fleet thought it was hilarious. Football with a smile.

A shot from distance from Fleet Town.
With the sun out (until ten past three, at any rate), it was time to walk around the ground. Next to the old stand is a new metal stand with four rows of blue and white seats. Supporters can buy a seat for the season for £25. Then it's tarmacced hard standing behind the far goal. In the far corner is a recessed area with plastic sheeting over it as a shelter. Handy if you're caught in a shower.

Along the opposite side to the stands, it's more hard standing all the way to the far corner, where there is a metal terrace, the same kind as is found at Sholing. Beyond this are three more turnstiles of different types, presumably all bought from different professional clubs as they upgraded to the modern electronic form (which I dislike intensely - modern pro football, pah!). I presume Supermarine utilise these when they play Swindon Town in pre-season friendlies.

Turning left and walking beneath some tall fast-growing conifers, you come to the final spectator structure - a homemade standing shelter made of scaffold poles. The roof, back and sides seem to consist of disused advertising boards painted blue. I see discarded boards piled up at many grounds I visit - what a great way to recycle them!

Changing rooms and a clubhouse complete the grand ground tour.

Numbers 4 and 10, your time is up!
As I reached the apex of the penalty area on the far side, the first goal was scored. It was one of those where everyone is slightly embarrassed - Chris Taylor because his goal was really a sliced cross; goalkeeper Ryan Pryce because the ball - spinning like an out of control planet with the fierce wind behind it - slipped through his gloves and slithered over the line. Muted congratulations from Taylor's team-mates and the odd half-hearted clap from of a few of the 124 spectators.

The wind dominated the game. At one point during the first half, the referee told Fleet's right-back James Scott that he "had the wind". Cue bemusement at which sort of wind he had, as it certainly wasn't the gale force weather type of wind, which was blowing straight in to his face as he was trying to take a throw-in.

Half-time, and the prize for the draw was a ploughman's with paté (Green 704). I didn't win (and thank goodness for that, say my family and friends, as I would probably talk about nothing else for the next few weeks...).

The second goal was scored by Supermarine's number 9, Connor Waldon, on loan from Swindon Town for work experience. He brought down the ball on the edge of the area, shimmied to the left, shimmied to the right, turned and stroked the ball efficiently low to the keeper's right. You could tell he was a pro.

Supermarine could have scored many more, but their third and final goal was the best of the game, a low hard strike from wide out on the left by Ryan Stanners.

This was the second time I've covered Fleet Town on here, and they've yet to score. Maybe next time...

They don't make adverts like this any more! I wish they did!
I wore my Supermarine badge to Wembley the following day (along with a Romsey Town badge and my Havant & Waterlooville shirt). The badge witnessed North Ferriby's extraordinary comeback, going 3-2 up in the first half of extra-time, before conceding an equaliser with 118 minutes on the clock. The penalties that followed were just as nail-biting, as one pen went in, the next was saved, and so on, until eventually the villagers from East Yorkshire climbed the steps to take the trophy back home. One of the great Wembley finals, they say, and I'm not going to disagree, as this was my tenth trip to the stadium, and far and away the best game I've seen there.

I was going to write more about Swindon Supermarine - about how they sound a bit like Super Mario, and how there must be a pitch in the Supermarine complex dedicated to Mario and Luigi and Yoshi and Princess Peach where they can play some sort of weird, illogical game of football with turtle shells and giant bananas - but there wasn't space this time...

Match reports can be found on the two clubs' websites here and here. Fleet Town's report is very honest about their performance. One point since New Year says it all. Bashley (with no home wins all season) v Fleet will be interesting in a couple of weeks. Match photos can be found here. More photos from Supermarine may well appear here shortly, but weren't available to view as I wrote this.

I'll be at another game on April 11th, but I haven't decided where yet - somewhere with a club that has promotion or relegation at stake would be my first choice.

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