Monday, 31 August 2015

Brockenhurst v Yate Town

Respect for the victims of the Shoreham air crash before kick-off.
What a finale! What a match! What an amazing day for Brockenhurst Football Club!

94 minutes on the watch, 1-1, and the subs warming up in front of me wondering whether they would be playing at Bournemouth Poppies in the Hampshire Senior Cup on Tuesday evening, or whether they would be travelling to Bristol after work for an FA Cup replay. It looked for all the world as if they'd be clocking out early for the long journey to the West Country, when suddenly, the ball was played forward on Brock's left, a defender slipped on the greasy turf as a low cross skimmed across the box, and Scott Joyce found himself all alone six yards out with the ball at his feet.

He couldn't miss, surely? He'd only signed from Blackfield & Langley two days before - this was his first game back at his old club. Sidefoot the ball into the far corner and he would be the returning Roy of the Rovers hero; lose his footing and sky it over the bar and...well, it wouldn't bear thinking about. There wouldn't have been a hole big enough for him to sink into.

But this fairytale had a happy ending. The man with the luminous yellow boots kept his head and did what was necessary! 2-1 to the underdogs and subsequent pandemonium in the forest!

As the ref mentioned to one of his assistants as he trotted back to the halfway line: "What did I tell you? It's the FA Cup!"

Come on the Badgers! In the rain.
Brockenhurst FC 2 (0) v (1) 1 Yate Town FC
The Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 29th August 2015
Attendance: c100
Admission: £6
Programme: £1.50
Colours: All blue v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU2902 / SU3002

Peek-a-boo! Brockenhurst's stand.
As I got out of bed on Saturday morning, my body was giving me a sneak preview of what it must feel like to be 85 years of age. I'd played five games of volleyball in two days and, as the cliché goes, I had muscles aching that I didn't even know existed.

Not only that, but I'd been standing too close to the speakers at a concert by Ash at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth the night before. Deaf in one ear, and requiring a whole-body transplant, I was very tempted to give the football a miss and pop into Boots instead to purchase a circulation-boosting Revitive (as advertised by Ian "Beefy" Botham on one of the minor ITV channels). Oh, can't someone take away the pain? Please!

Through pure strength of will, I resisted the shopping urge, and ignoring the old-man pain, got into my car and drove to the New Forest. Parking in Brockenhurst costs money, so I stopped outside the village in one of the many walker's car parks, and ambled to the match past a series of grazing ponies and equally-grazing picnickers, humming Kung Fu to myself as I went ("Oh Daniel San made in Taiwan, Come on Jackie Chan, uh uh uh oh oh...).

Ascend these steps to sit in the stand.
Brockenhurst's football team have played at their Grigg Lane ground since 1950. The stand and changing rooms were built in 1978 - this being the year that I spent all my pocket money one week on three Yorkie Bars, eating them one after the other and being sick as a result. I still can't look a Yorkie Bar in the face without feeling queasy.

Also in 1978, my uncle made me some C90 cassette tapes of modern music (he knew I liked my music and didn't have enough money to buy records). I played A Tonic For The Troops by The Boomtown Rats and Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers over and over again, but another one of the albums he taped for me, Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf, I never really enjoyed. Of course, this was one of the highest-selling albums of all time, and I didn't "get it". I had to accept that I was out of step with popular taste. Nothing's changed in the intervening years.

Nicely polished wooden bench seats await you up in the stand. Tea and Twix optional.
Enough about me...let's break off for a minute and see what you know about Yate.

  • Brockenhurst's opponents, Yate Town, are from an overspill town to the north of Bristol (handy for the M4 and M5), and play in the Southern League Division One South & West - the same division as Bashley, AFC Totton and Winchester City. They are thus, one step higher in the pyramid than Brock. True or false?
  • Yate is famous for the mining of celestine, the mineral from which strontium is extracted. Strontium is used in pyrotechnics and weapons. Strontium from Yate was used in the Vietnam War. True or false?
  •  Yate's pedestrianised 1960s shopping centre was opened by Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street. True or false?
  • There was an annual festival at Yate shopping centre for several years in the 1980s and 1990s. Celebrities who have opened the festival include Timmy Mallett, Keith Chegwin, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog, Grotbags from the Rod Hull and Emu TV show, and the Milky Bar Kid. True or false?
Extraordinarily, all of these statements are TRUE (at least according to Wikipedia). You kind of forget how popular some of these people were thirty years ago...

Spectators watch on with resignation as Yate score their penalty.
Anyway, back to the match...

I entered Brock's ground, and what did I hear? Only Bat Out Of Hell blasting out of the speakers by the clubhouse! Ah well, I'll be gone by the time the morning comes, I suppose. It had been raining gently since I'd left the car, and it would continue to rain for the next hour or so, but the weather hadn't put too many people off. The cover by the Badgers Sett tea hut had around twenty fans sheltering beneath it, and by the time the players came out and gathered around the centre circle to pay their respects to the Shoreham air crash victims, there must have been another eighty people packed in to the stand. A healthy FA Cup crowd for Brock.

The first half was uneventful until the 39th minute, when the referee blew his whistle as the ball floated over from a Yate corner. Apparently, there had been some shirt-pulling or other argy-bargy in the box, and he'd given the team in yellow a penalty. It reminded me of the Half Man Half Biscuit lyric from The Referee's Alphabet - "The Y is for Yate, the kind of town that referees come from". Brock fans were certainly convinced that the away team had brought their own ref at that point.

The penalty was duly dispatched, and it was time to turn our attention to the half-time 50/50 scratch card. I'd chosen Nottingham Forest (Pompey had already gone). But no, Pompey failed to win and Newcastle United had come out on top (and it's not often you can say either of those things these days).

Brock's Jack Smith heads the equaliser beneath the telecommunications mast.
So much happened in the second half. I don't know what the manager said at half-time, but it was as if the Badgers had come out of hibernation after a 45 minute sleep. So many chances - to be fair, at either end - Yate hit the woodwork twice, but Brockenhurst had a one-on-one thwarted by Yate's goalie, another shot cleared off the line (possibly hitting a defender's hand - not spotted by the ref), but as a buzzard circled overhead, it appeared as though they would never break through.

However, with only fifteen minutes remaining, Jack Smith leapt higher than his marker to head downwards in to the net at the Telecommunications Mast End. At last! The Badgers had broken through! Chants of "Wemberley! Wemberley!" could be heard throughout the forest!

Brock kept pressing, and five minutes later, Kabba Jack was through on goal, but was tripped from behind right on the edge of the area. Red card for Yate's Matt Villis, and Martin Horsell in goal had to pull off a spectacular save from the resulting free-kick as the ball arced towards the top-right corner.

Into injury time, and Yate had one last chance deflected wide. It was at this point that Brock's subs started discussing when the replay would be - which is where we came in...

As the players left the pitch, the stadium announcer shouted out "Welcome home, Scotty!" What a return for the hero of the day! But it wasn't just Scotty, the announcer also declared that "All the lads deserve a medal!"

Indeed they did.

Enjoying a burger at the Badgers Sett during the second half.
Do you know what? All that pain I was feeling before the match, all those aching muscles - it had all gone. Even as a neutral, I felt the same thrill as the players and supporters of Brockenhurst when that second goal went in. They say that you feel a buzz when something amazing happens - well, that's what happened on Saturday - that feeling of elation, of a tingle down the spine, the head-spinning dizzy thrill of it all - I felt it, and it took away all that pain. I felt warm and glowy all the way home.

Brockenhurst will play at home to another Southern League side from Bristol, Mangotsfield United, in the next round of the cup on Saturday September 12th. On the same day, the conquerors of Chinnor in the previous round, Hartley Wintney, will host their neighbours Fleet Town - this after sticking five past the higher-ranked Banbury United on Saturday. Both ties should be absolute crackers.

Sadly, I'm unable to attend any matches that day, so my next report may well come from a midweek Wessex League game instead.

I caught the winning goal and celebrations on camera. Instead of another thousand words from me, here are four final pictures to complete Saturday's story:

How to celebrate after scoring a 94th minute winner in the FA Cup: Firstly, wheel around and head towards the corner as the ball hits the net... past your ecstatic fans waving their cycle helmets in the air (extremely happy little boy just hidden behind you). You feel like you've just scored the winner at Wembley in the final...

...the first of your team-mates slides in to congratulate fall on top of him and scream and yell and man-hug ...

...followed by the rest of the team (and subs). Ouch! That must hurt at the bottom of the pile?!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Chinnor v Hartley Wintney

Cricket and football living side by side in Abingdon.
It's the FA Cup and if the year ends in an odd number, then it must be time to watch Hartley Wintney again! In 2011, they beat Bashley on their sloping pitch on their way to the Third Qualifying Round, where they bowed out to neighbouring non-league collossi Basingstoke Town in the October sunshine.

Two years later, and they went one step beyond - beyond the likes of Clevedon Town and all the way to the Fourth Qualifying Round, only to be defeated in front of a 1,000+ crowd at their house against Daventry Town. Win that one, and they would have played in front of a 5,000+ audience at Chesterfield in the First Round Proper and been on the telly and all.

Could they do it again in 2015? They had to start the competition in Oxfordshire against Hellenic League Division One East Chinnor FC. Win this, and they were five matches away from the First Round Proper and who knows? A trip to Bramall Lane, the Ricoh Arena or Fratton Park?

Abingdon Town's main stand.
Chinnor FC (0) 0 v 2 (0) Hartley Wintney FC (played at Abingdon Town)
The Emirates FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round
Saturday 15th August 2015
Attendance: 40-50? (I forgot to count, as usual)
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: Yellow / black / yellow v All orange
National Grid reference (for Abingdon Town): SU4996

The 45-year-old clubhouse with a covered seated area in front.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. It's the start of a new season and I should explain to my regular readers what I'll be doing during 2015/16.

If you've been here before, you'll probably know that the original aim of this blog was to visit all 42 (as it was at the time) Hampshire football clubs down to the tenth level of the English football pyramid (Step 6 of non-league). Starting in January 2011, I wrote what were loosely called "match reports" and posted photos of each ground.

I completed this task at the end of the 2012/13 season, but I wasn't ready to stop. I'd enjoyed the experience, so I decided to carry on and follow the FA Vase in 2013/14, watching Hampshire clubs in every round as far as I could go. It just so happened that I went all the way to Wembley with Sholing. Success! For them and for myself.

The following season, I attempted to do the same again, but everyone was knocked out by Christmas. Disappointment! For everyone.

Pre-match tummy bumps for Chinnor.
So, what to do in 2015/16? I counted the number of match reports I'd already done over the summer, and unless I've miscounted, I've done 83 thus far. It would be nice to make that a round hundred by the end of the season, so I'm aiming to write about 17 matches. But which matches? Where shall I go? I need some sort of structure.

I know that family commitments will stop me from attending games on at least five Saturdays between now and Christmas, and these Saturdays will include both Vase and FA Cup weekends, so I can't very well follow one of the cups.

So, this season, my main aim will be to complete the Sydenhams Wessex League. I shall be visiting AFC Stoneham, Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Bournemouth Poppies, Pewsey Vale, Portland United and Salisbury FC at some point over the next nine months. Each of these sides must be playing a Hampshire-based club, because the One Golden Rule of Hopping Around Hampshire is that every match must have at least one Hampshire team involved. It doesn't matter if they're playing home or away.

This does leave eleven other match reports to write, and bearing in mind the One Golden Rule, I decided to start the season with a tasty FA Cup clash. There were a few options, but Chinnor v Hartley Wintney looked particularly good:

Hampshire team involved? Yes, of course.

Lower-ranked club at home? Yep.

Being played somewhere interesting (either a photogenic venue or a pleasant place to visit)? Indeed!

So that's why I was at Abingdon Town on Saturday.

The referee and his assistants lead the teams out from the changing rooms.
[Reader's agitated voice - already irritated just four paragraphs in to the new season]: "Andy, you just told us you were going to Chinnor, not Abingdon!"

I know, I know, but you see, Chinnor are groundsharing at Abingdon Town for the first few months of this season whilst their clubhouse is being rebuilt. They've had to move away from their home village temporarily whilst their facilities are being upgraded. Apparently, they intend to move back in January. The sooner the better, as they have to pay Abingdon Town rent for the use of their pitch, so every home game costs them money. With a new clubhouse back home, they will have a steady income stream, so they're speculating to accumulate. In the meantime, every fiver they take on the gate at Abingdon cuts their matchday losses down just that little bit more, so they'd really appreciate it if people from the village can travel the 16 miles from Chinnor to cheer them on every time they play at Abingdon. It's only for five months.

Groundsharing is common around the London area, where rents are extortionate and so many clubs have had to sell their grounds for housing or to Tesco-Sainsburys-Asda-Morrisons. Not quite so common elsewhere - the only Hampshire club at Step 6 or above that have groundshared recently are Hythe & Dibden, who played at Blackfield & Langley whilst they were developing their new home.

The spire of St Helen's Church, Abingdon . A delivery van is delivering some large item to a mobile home during the match.
Abingdon Town's ground is very green. Not green in the sense that there's a windfarm behind the far goal - it's just painted green. They played in the Southern League until a few years ago, and their stadium reflects this. As you enter through the front gate, there are three steps of terrace to your left (with no cover). In front of you are the changing rooms and clubhouse complex. The clubhouse and small covered seated area in front of it were built in the early 1970s. If you wander around to the neighbouring cricket ground, you can see the club name painted on the back wall of the clubhouse in six foot tall green (of course!) lettering.

Beyond the clubhouse is a mobile home. I'm sure someone is living there, as they had their washing hung up by the side of the clubhouse. I really wanted to unpeg the washing and rearrange it, as it would have taken forever to dry pegged out how it was! During the second half, a delivery van arrived outside of the mobile home and delivered a large, bulky item - possibly a piece of furniture. Something you wouldn't see during the latter stages of the FA Cup...

A car parked outside the mobile home had the following message written on the back: "Don't Follow Me, Follow Abingdon Town".

There is another large mobile vehicle next door, which may also be someone's home. Beyond that are a pair of storage containers.

Walking around the ground anti-clockwise, you duck your head under the roof of a covered three step terrace, which extends the full width of the pitch. Then, around the corner, there is another covered terrace, an abandoned turnstile hut, and then the seated stand, built in 1991. The red, backless seats came from the old Wembley. Next to the stand is another covered area, the roof of which is rusting away.

The whole ground feels a bit run down, which reflects the host club's lack of money. They had to drop out of the Hellenic League due to having no cash, and will be playing in the Step 7 North Berkshire League this season. It will surely be the most developed ground in that league, by quite some distance.

If you'd like to take a virtual trip around the stadium, you can do it here.

I want to live in a football ground.

Chinnor's dugout and some of the fans basking in the sunshine.
So, the year ends in an odd number, which means it's time to watch Hartley Wintney in the FA Cup again! (They used to say that if  the year ended in a one, then Tottenham Hotspur would win the cup - I don't know who "they" were, but they were clearly wrong...). Hartley were playing a club who had only ever played one match in the FA Cup previously - two years ago, Chinnor travelled to Camberley Town and lost 2-0. Hopes were high amongst the home fans that they would see Chinnor's first ever FA Cup goal, and possibly even their first ever FA Cup win.

I'd followed Chinnor FC's Twitter account in the build-up to the game, and four days before the match, I noticed an intriguing message - they were seeking an upcoming or professional photographer to take photos at the game. Well, I was going anyway, and I was going to take pictures, so I volunteered my services. It was my big chance to be a part of FA Cup history...Chinnor's Official FA Cup Photographer!

I couldn't sleep the night before the match. What if I took the memory card out of the camera and forgot to replace it? What if the battery fails after five minutes? What if I leave the focus settings on macro and everything comes out blurry? Eep.

None of these things happened.

I usually spend ten or fifteen minutes during a match taking action shots, with the rest of the time spent just watching and making notes for the blog report. This time it was full-on photography, but I don't think I missed much during the first half. Hartley appeared the stronger of the two sides and probably had the most chances, but neither team could find the net.

I spoke to a fellow behind the near goal at half-time who had walked the sixteen miles from Chinnor to see his village's first "home" match in the FA Cup. Now, that's dedication! Most of the home fans had arrived on a coach an hour before the match started.

All the main action came midway through the second half. After 63 minutes, Sam Argent stroked home Hartley's first goal after a spell of pressure. Ten minutes later, a goalbound Chinnor shot struck a Hartley hand in the box. The ref waved play on, presumably because he considered the defender couldn't have gotten out of the way - hand in a "natural position" and all that.

Whatever the reason, Chinnor lost their concentration, as Hartley immediately broke upfield. Ross Cook rounded the home goalie to score the decisive goal.

It was mostly Chinnor for the last fifteen minutes, but they never did get their first ever FA Cup goal, Hartley's Craig Atkinson making a tremendous save from a downward header in the last minute to preserve his clean sheet.

Uh-oh! Abingdon United Ultras were 'ere...
Okay, I usually show just eight photos in one of my standard match reports - some stand and terrace pics for the groundhoppers (done that here); a quirky photo of a dead fly or an Ultras sticker, or something similar, for people who like that sort of thing (yep, catered for "those sort of people" this time out); and one or two action shots for the players involved in the game (I know they usually like seeing themselves on the web, especially those who play lower down the pyramid where they don't get so much coverage). As I took so many action shots in my role as Official FA Cup Photographer on Saturday, here are a few more to round off the report. I chose a few with interesting things in the background to keep the hoppers happy.

There are 82 photos in total from Saturday which can be viewed here.

Thank you to the management team at Chinnor for their hospitality. I hope the rebuilding of the clubhouse goes well for you and that you finish high enough up the league to have another crack at the Cup next season - when a home draw really would be a home draw!

My next match report should be from another FA Cup game in two weeks' time. I haven't decided where to go yet. It could depend on one of this week's replays. See you next time!

Hartley Wintney win out in this tussle.

Chinnor's management team look on as their midfield try to halt Hartley Wintney on the halfway line.

I chose this one because you can see the old press box in the background. Sponsored by Modern Music of High Street, Abingdon.

Badly pegged washing on the line here. It'll never dry properly like that!

One of the two covered standing shelters either side of the main stand.

Hartley Wintney's players congratulate each other after scoring their first goal.

Great save by Hartley's Craig Atkinson in the last minute.

Relaxed and ready for action!