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!

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