Monday, 28 September 2015

Larkhall Athletic v Havant & Waterlooville

Havant & Waterlooville warming up before the game at Plain Ham. Pow's Field rises up above Larkhall's ground.
Whether you're a player, a club official or a fan, what do you do during the close season? When all the football fun is over?

Do you mope around, wishing the days away whilst waiting for the first friendlies in early July? Or do you go on holiday somewhere hot, chug a few beers down and forget all about the game for a month or two?

Perhaps you fill your time with another hobby - playing cricket, or travelling down to Newquay every weekend in your VW camper van, surfboard strapped to the roof, whistling along to the Beach Boys as you crawl along the busy West Country lanes?

Me? I do a bit of moping in May and June at 3pm on a Saturday, but I mostly fill my time with other worthwhile hobbies. I'll go out for long walks, binoculars bumping into my chest, looking for birds. Or I'll take my camera out, screw the macro lens on, and crawl around in the heather searching for compliant grasshoppers to photograph.

And, yeah, I like a beer as well. Of course I do.

Kyle Phillips makes a catch in front of picturesque Bathampton Down.
Larkhall Athletic FC (0) 1 v 1 (1) Havant & Waterlooville FC
Saturday 26th September 2015
Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
Attendance: 210
Admission: £8
Programme: £1.50
Colours: All blue v All white
National Grid reference: ST7567

The seated stand at the top of the grassy bank.
As for summer sport, I'll happily watch a game of cricket, but Wimbledon and the British Open leave me cold. The sport I follow during the football close season is cycling. In May, there's the Giro d'Italia for three weeks, but of course, the big one is Le Tour de France in July.

The sprinters' stages are exciting for the last few hundred metres...will Cav win or is he off the pace today? I admire the strength and speed of the time trial specialists. But the real spectacle in road race cycling comes in the mountains.

There's the scenery - if the race itself is boring, well, just look at that amazing castle they've just ridden past! And look, someone's dressed their donkey in a polka dot jersey! And then there's the sporting element - the team setting up the race for their leader, then it's man versus man, all the way to the summit.

There's the immense crowds - loud, drunk and colourful - it looks as though there's no way through - they're waving flags of obscure French and Spanish regions in your face, but they part like the Red Sea for Moses and his followers. Attack and defend, attack and defend, until suddenly someone cracks and the race is yours if you can only push your flagging feet around on the pedals for a few hundred more metres.

The Long Shed on the far side at Larkhall.
Why do I mention cycling in a football match report? It's because the roads leading up to Larkhall Athletic's ground wouldn't be out of place on a particularly strenuous mountain stage on a three week professional road race. Climbs are split in to five categories on a road race - category 4 being the easiest to climb (supposedly you could drive a car up a Cat 4 hill in fourth gear), through Cats 3, 2, and 1 (first gear), each progressively harder than the last, until you get to Haute Categorie, the toughest mountain climbs of them all.

Well, I drove to Larkhall. The road up to the ground was a Cat 1. There was no way through for the Havant & Waterlooville team bus, which had to park well away from Plain Ham.

Hawks fans cramming into The Small Shed at Larkhall.
Larkhall Athletic's ground, Plain Ham, has gone into my imaginary list of top five football ground names. The others? (I have to have been there for the purposes of this list, and yes, I've probably missed an obvious local one...):
  • Gay Meadow (Shrewsbury Town's old ground).
  • Gang Warily (Blackfield & Langley)
  • The Butchers Arms Ground (home of The Bloods of Droylsden)
  • New Sirs (NW Counties League side Daisy Hill play there)
Plain Ham is a truly lovely place to watch a game on a sunny day in September.

Once you've got up the hill and into the car park (plenty of space for everyone), the first thing you notice is the petanque pitches between the car park and the ground. Petanque is the French equivalent of our crown green bowls, but with a gravel pitch instead of grass. My cats would absolutely love that gravel...

Walk towards the pay box, and on your left is the cosy clubhouse. You can buy rolls and drinks here before the match. Pin badges are for sale behind the bar at £3.50 each. There's a separate tea hatch for refreshments once you've passed the turnstiles.

Dan Strugnell hits the bar early in the match.
Walking clockwise around the ground, you come very quickly to the covered seating area. This was almost certainly "ramshackle" at some point in the past, but the people at the club have worked extremely hard to improve Plain Ham over the last few years, so it's now better described as quaint. Two rows of fifty or so plastic seats run for most of the length of the cover, with seats reserved for the press in the middle.

The view from the seats is superb. As the stand sits at the top of a 3m high grass bank, you get a great view of the action, but if there's a lull in the game, you can admire Bathampton Down to your right, and then to the left, there's Solsbury Hill - yes, that Solsbury Hill, as made famous in the Peter Gabriel hit record from 1978. Now, there's something about that song that's always annoyed me - it's the bit where he sings "Eagle flew out of the night"...


You probably saw a buzzard, mate.

Brian Stock of Havant & Waterlooville and Larkhall's Jamie Lyons chase after this loose ball.
Wander beyond the stand (it's all downhill - great fun if you're ten years old and are riding down there on a scooter), and around the first corner, and you come to a homemade Shed structure, which measures 2m x 2m - well, there was enough room in there for approximately twenty Hawks fans on Saturday!

Flat hard standing takes you around to the far side, where there is another homemade structure - the same as The Small Shed, but much longer, with tasteful paving stones laid along the entire length. I stood here for a little while and listened in on a conversation wherein the participants agreed that they can't stand messy hair...luckily I'd had a haircut earlier in the week, so everything was good.

Beyond The Long Shed, and next to the corner flag, there's an advertising board for The Fat Friar, a local chip shop. It appears as though the friar in question is holding a carving knife. I didn't like the look of him. I've seen murderous monks like him on the telly...

Straight Outta Cadfael.

Past The Fat Friar, and what goes down, must go up again, as you walk along more hard standing, uphill back to the entrance.

Another view of Larkhall's stand.
Havant & Waterlooville play at a level two steps higher than Larkhall, so they were clear favourites going in to the match. However, they had lost three league games in a row, and their opponents from the north side of Bath were unbeaten in ten, so it looked like a possible FA Cup upset on paper. For this reason, the Non-League Paper had sent my photographer pal, Paul Paxford, to cover the game. We joked beforehand that if Larkhall won, he would be on the front page; if the Hawks won, his pics would be buried on page 36...

Larkhall started with a swagger, having a couple of efforts on goal early doors, but the Hawks took the lead after five minutes, Ben Swallow doing what Ben Swallow does best - beating the full-back and swinging over a super cross, which the experienced James Hayter nodded in to the net with aplomb. Ben's family would have been delighted, sitting up in the stand cheering on their boy. Sat behind them was a Bath City fan, who had a Ben Swallow shirt from his days at Twerton Park. It was a mini Ben Swallow Fan Convention up there, as I'd voted for him in the Hawks Player Of The Season competition last year.

He nearly had a second assist a few minutes later, as his corner was headed on to the bar by Dan Strugnell. It was all Hawks - Hayter also hitting the bar after 15 minutes from a corking volley from twenty yards, helped on to the woodwork by Kyle Phillips's fingertips. Great save.

After these scares, Larkhall started to put themselves about a bit and picked up some yellow cards, but it seemed to work for them as 'Looville had less opportunities up to half-time.

What should have been the defining moment came after 57 minutes, as the Larks' Brad Norris was sent off for wrestling Brian Stock to the ground. However, instead of dominating the rest of the match and adding to their goal total, H&W conceded the equaliser just two minutes later. Joe Raynes bobbed round a pair of Hawks defenders and slotted the ball into a vacant space to Ryan Young's right. You can see his goal celebrations on Paul Paxford's photo set. Happy times in north Bath.

For the last half hour, the Hawks had chance after chance after chance to win the game, but nothing would go in. There were two incredible blocks on the line and Hayter missed a sitter from six yards - there were many other shots from here, there and every-bloomin'-where, but the upshot of it all is that there will be a replay at Westleigh Park on Tuesday evening.

My summertime ornithological knowledge tells me that in the world of birds, hawks would naturally hunt larks, but occasionally, the lark will get away...

A herd of alpacas chomping away at some juicy grass halfway up the hill.
Paul Paxford's photos of Larkhall's goal and celebrations appeared on pages 35 and 39 of the NLP on Sunday, so we were nearly right with page 36! He was knocked off the front page by pictures of Holbeach United's goalkeeper scoring a 94th minute bicycle kick equaliser in their match against Worcester City. Better luck in the next round, Paul!

Paul's brilliant photo set from Larkhall can be found here. If my mum and dad are reading this, I'd recommend you click on the link and see if you can spot me in the crowd...

Hawks FC Online have uploaded a video of the match to Youtube here.

There are several proper match reports on the web. For example, Larkhall Athletic's website report is here. The report from The News is here.

The draw for the next round of the FA Cup was released this afternoon. The winners of tomorrow's replay will travel to either Horsham YMCA or Aveley in the Third Qualifying Round.

The two sides I wrote about in previous rounds this season are, incredibly - considering they are both Step 5 clubs - still in the competition.

Hartley Wintney have been drawn away to Eastbourne Borough, and Brockenhurst will be at home to the winners of the replay between Wealdstone and Biggleswade Town - just two wins away from a place in the First Round Proper!

The Fat Friar. Straight Outta Batheaston.
All of which leaves me with a conundrum for October's two match reports...

I was intending to go to an FA Vase game next Saturday, and then somewhere else on October 17th - but the next round of the FA Cup is on October 10th, and it's been riveting so far. What to do? What to do? Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Fareham Town v Moneyfields

Fareham Town Football Club: Prest A Faire, or "Ready To Act"!
There's this website called what3words. It's one of these clever start-ups run by brainy people with big ideas. The simple concept behind the website is that there are a lot of places on Earth that are not addressed, and are therefore effectively invisible. It's okay for us in the West - we know we live at 43 East Bloggs Street with an appropriate postcode or zipcode or whatever - we can be found easily enough by the postie.

But what if you lived in a shanty town and an ambulance needed to reach you? We have latitude, longitude, degrees, minutes and seconds, so you can be georeferenced that way, but who on Earth knows their precise geographical co-ordinates? Not me, that's for sure.

In the UK, we could use our Ordnance Survey National Grid reference - this works very well, but again, have you memorised the grid reference for your home? Well, quite! And this only works for the UK - live in a shack in Dar-es-Salaam and you're back to square one.

Fareham's flag fluttering in the wind by the tea hut.
Fareham Town FC (0) 0 v 0 (0) Moneyfields FC
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Tuesday 8th September 2015
Attendance: 95
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: Red and black stripes / black / red v Yellow / navy blue / navy blue
National Grid reference: SU5705

Another flag, but this one is attached to the corner pole.
So, what what3words have done is georeference everywhere on the planet with a unique three word code. Every 10m x 10m square on Earth can be memorised by the occupants of that space and can be found by the local postie or emergency services. Any temporary tent put up by a refugee can be found quickly if a baby falls sick, as long as there is a smartphone at hand with the what3words app installed.

Obviously, if three words are generated at random, there will be weird and wonderful addresses out there. Go and have a look and see if you live at "grumbling.cheese.monkey". Somebody will.

(Zoom in to your area of interest, move the map around until the pointer is over, for example, your house, and check the three words at the bottom of the screen - that's your what3words 10 metre global grid reference).

No idea how they make any money.

Fareham Town's large stand, built in 1975, squeezed in between two newer dugouts.
Looking at the what3words website and hovering over Fareham Town's Cams Alders football ground, I find that I ordered my pre-match cuppa and Twix at the tea hut, which I found at "". Wandering towards the big old red-seated stand with large, hot paper cup in hand (bargain at a quid), I found a seat at "imagined.massaging.alley" (the mind boggles...).

A few minutes later, full of tea and chocolate, it was down the ironwork steps to the covered standing area (set well back from the pitch due to there being a disused running track between the two - the track now being covered in green carpet due to a bizarre FA rule forbidding gravel in a football ground). I checked the team board at "scorch.bramble.zones" and noted that several relatively well-known players on each side were missing due to holidays.

Whilst I was checking the teams, the players were receiving their last-minute instructions in the changing room block at "pumpkin.crisp.scorpions". Anyway, you get the idea...

Apparently, there are places in Africa where this notion has really taken off and the residents have spray-painted their what3words reference on the walls of their shacks. This hasn't yet happened in Fareham.

Fareham's announcer waiting to read out the raffle results at half-time.
It was the evening of Wayne Rooney's record-breaking fiftieth goal for England. It was the day that Queen Elizabeth II drew level at the top of the royal reign charts with Queen Vicky. It was my first 0-0 draw for nearly two years.

Ah well.

They call it the "dreaded" nil-nil, but does it really matter? I was out in the fresh air, meeting new people, chewing the fat and leaving all my worries at home for a few hours. I don't really go for the football. It's more of a social event.

I met Paul "Splodge" Proctor, Fareham Town's secretary. He groundhops when he's not watching his club play, so he was able to tell me about a few worthwhile grounds in North Wales that I could visit when I go and see my son at university in that area.

Also there were fellow ground enthusiasts Messrs Stadium Trotter and Non-League South (who tweets useful information about football in this area for his followers when he's not running United Services Portsmouth's website). It was a veritable blogger's and tweeter's convention, with rumours that Mr Hopper & Son was also in the house (we never met on Tuesday evening, although I'm sure we shall do at some point).

Moneyfields' Aaron Cook wins this aerial battle in midfield.
I'd been taking notes during the game for this match report, as had Paul for the Fareham website and programme. We looked at the length of each other's notes during the second half and shook our heads sadly at the lack of worthy action on the pitch.

I'd had it all worked out pre-match. I was going to describe the goals with what3words grid references..."so-and-so picked up the ball at "handy.advising.beakers" and rolled it through to XXX, who was one-on-one with the keeper at "burglars.disputes.seagull". Without hesitating, he lobbed the stranded custodian, the ball bounced once, twice, and trickled over the line at "assorted.cabbies.sobbed" before Defender X could stick out a despairing leg to stop it...etc"

It would have been like the BBC radio commentaries of the first half of the twentieth century when a plummy voice in the background would give out grid references (which you would follow in your copy of the Radio Times whilst sat next to the family wireless listening in...A2...B4...D3...grizzled.egg.sputum...).

Absolutely no-one would have had a clue what I was talking about, but I'm used to that.

Pretty sunset behind the poplars.
Back to the real match, and there wasn't a great deal for the Fareham Ultras to shout about. They had their flags out as usual - Belgium's was well to the fore - apparently, the flag of Greenland makes a regular appearance, but wasn't there on Tuesday. I'd brought my Albanian flag with me (red and black, just like Fareham's kit...), but felt a bit self-conscious about joining in and putting it up behind the goal with the others. Perhaps I'll do it next time I go and watch the Creeksiders.

If Moneys had any ultras, they would have been more pleased with what they'd seen. The team from Copnor in Portsmouth had the majority of the chances either side of half-time and probably should have converted at least one of them, but it wasn't to be. The closest they came was a disallowed headed goal for Tom McInnes from a marginal offside decision.

Fareham came close to snatching the three points near the end. Firstly, Simon Woods blasted in a powerful cross-shot which was deflected in to the side netting, and then, with the last kick of the game, Zac Gill let rip with a powerful shot from twenty yards which skimmed the outside of the post with Moneys' keeper well beaten.

No goals, but a pleasant evening spent with some interesting people, which is never a bad thing.

Blogger takes pic of blogger taking a pic: that's Sheridan the Stadium Trotter over there...
Before I go, Splodge would like a mystery solved on behalf of Fareham Town Football Club. We need somebody who understands Polish for this one...

Apparently, the Creeksiders' left-back, Mattheusz Zaremski, claims that he played for Poland at under-17 and under-18 level. However, nobody at the club can verify this claim, as none of them can read Polish. You can find his name with a web search, but the articles that he's mentioned in are impossible to understand without a working knowledge of his native tongue. So, did he, or didn't he? Over to you...

Splodge's more detailed match report can be read here.

Next time out, I'm hoping for an interesting FA Cup match to report on. Failing that, I shall go elsewhere on September 26th. I promise I won't use any what3words grid references next time. Or ever again.