Monday, 19 October 2015

Sway v Four Marks

The home end at Sway FC.
If anybody ever asks me "What's the best thing about living in Southampton?", I invariably struggle for an answer. Is it the fact that the council erected some new energy-saving lampposts in our road a couple of years back that thrills me? Perhaps it's the smoothly tarmacced pavements - no chance of tripping over in the dark when the lampposts have switched themselves off for the night? Or is it the huge array of 99p shops in Shirley?

I really do struggle.

The answer I usually give is "Southampton is handy for the New Forest". A damning indictment of the place I live in, but I can't usually think of anything better.

The New Forest is a charming place. It lies in between two large conurbations, but you can walk for miles in some of the more deserted areas and see very few people. What you will see are woods and boggy heathlands filled with wildlife - there's the famous ponies, but in the Spring and Summer, the place is alive with bird song and butterflies as well.

If I could afford to live there instead of Southampton, I would do.

Sway's neat little stand and clubhouse.
Sway FC (1) 2 v 1 (0) Four Marks FC
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Division One
Saturday 17th October 2015
Attendance: About 35 (varied throughout the match as people came and went)
Admission: By donation
Programme: None
Colours: All red v Tangerine / black / black
National Grid reference: SZ2798 / SZ2898

The Denny Blackmore Stand providing cover at Sway FC.
I've been to football matches in the New Forest three times already this season, and it's always a pleasurable experience - two FA Cup matches during Brockenhurst's remarkable run to the Third Qualifying Round, and then this, my first trip to Sway.

Why did I choose to come to Sway, rather than anywhere else on Saturday? Well, with my photographer's hat on (it's a jaunty, jolly sort of hat with a colourful ribbon tied round the middle), I wanted to go to a pretty ground with a chance of capturing the New Forest in all of its Autumnal splendour. Pre-match, in my mind's eye, I could see the seasonal reds, oranges, yellows, greens and browns producing a kaleidoscopic background of pure natural beauty for my football photos. In reality, the day was overcast and the only bright reds and oranges on show were on the shirts that the players were wearing.

Never mind.

There was also the stand. I'd heard that Sway had a covered stand, but I'd not seen any good photos of it, so I wanted to have a look for myself. Ground enthusiasts like a homemade area of cover - we appreciate the work that's gone into creating a little stand of your own, rather than buying one off the shelf. Sometimes they're rickety, ramshackle scaffolded structures; at other times they're neat, brick built structures that look like they're made to last. Sway have the latter variety. It's really the difference between enjoying a Victoria sponge, slathered in strawberry jam, lovingly handmade by your favourite auntie, and a shop-bought Mr Kipling angel cake. They both do the job, but which is nicer?

Matching bottle green dugouts at Sway.
I'd had a look at Sway's excellent website before I travelled and read about their history. They were formed in 1908, and the players had to bathe in a pond post-match to get clean and relax their aching muscles. Move over ducks, here come the lads...

The club was banned for a year in 1923 after crowd trouble following one of their matches. When they reformed, a little wooden collection box was made to collect donations. I'd heard that this was still in use today, so I was looking forward to seeing it...and sure enough, towards the end of the first half, a club volunteer came along, holding the original, ninety year old collection box! I was so enamoured with this slice of history that I stuffed a fiver inside it.

We spoke for a little while about the club's present and future. He said that the club rent their ground from the parish council, but they have to pay for the upkeep. They're happy to be playing in the Hampshire Premier League, and that if they had the opportunity in the future, they would consider moving up to the Wessex League, but that finding money for the required ground improvements would be prohibitive. Floodlights may be considered in the future, but their next project will be to extend the clubhouse.

In the meantime, they do the best they can with what they have, and they're perfectly content as they are.

I hope I didn't misquote him there.

Well, somebody had to go and fetch that ball!
With crowds of around 35, there's no problem finding a place to park at Sway's Recreation Ground if you drive there. Alternatively, the village has a train station on the main Bournemouth to Waterloo line a ten minute walk away. You know when you've reached the ground, as the club put a little sandwich board sign up outside the entrance to the car park with the day's fixture written upon it.

The football ground is part of a larger sporting complex which is run by the parish council. To the left of the car park are tennis courts and a children's play area. At the far end of the car park is the clubhouse and changing rooms building, which was erected in 2004 and officially opened by Lawrie McMenemy. There's a cardboard box containing second-hand books for sale in exchange for a charity donation (I was tempted by a Sue Townsend novel), as well as the expected TV set for those who want to know the half-time scores from around the country.

If you trundle out of the clubhouse and walk clockwise around the pitch, the first thing you see is a collection of rollers on your left, safely caged up so they can do no harm. The pitch is surrounded by concrete paving. There are two bottle green breezeblock dugouts on the east side, behind which is a bench seat. Behind the bench are holly and gorse bushes, which obscure the village cricket pitch from view.

At the far end is an extremely tall mesh fence to stop footballs being booted out into the road (it reaches up to what would be Row X or Y at Pompey's Fratton End - it needed to be even taller when one particularly wayward shot got belted into an imaginary Row Z during the first half).

Walk around past the corner flag and up to the halfway line and you come to the little homemade stand, painted in pine green to blend in with the surrounding trees. Four rows of wooden bench seats give enough cover for the entire average crowd on a rainy day. Just beyond the stand is another bench seat, dedicated to a fan who died aged just 45 in 2014.

The famous Sway collection box, being modelled by one of the club volunteers.
Sway have just come up from the Bournemouth Hayward League. They lost a few players in the summer who weren't prepared to travel the extra distances involved when playing in the Hampshire Premier League - although the average distance travelled for Sway is only 33 miles for away matches, it could make a difference to anyone who works on a Saturday morning or evening. Thus, with a relatively large turnover of players, Sway have had a slow start to the season as the new teammates gel. They started the day in fifth place in the eleven team league with seven points from seven games.

Four Marks were lying in third place, unbeaten after six games. However, they turned up to Sway's Recreation Ground without eight first choice players - one had phoned in sick on the morning of the match, whereas several others had gone to Royal Ascot for a day's racing. Something Ronald Koeman doesn't have to worry about.

The day got even worse for Four Marks after 32 minutes when they had Kenny-Lee Guinness sent off for an off the ball incident. I didn't see it, as I was pointing my camera towards the player in one of the pictures above who had gone to fetch the ball which had landed in the road behind the ground (just missing a car) after clearing the big mesh fence. An away supporter told me at half-time that there had been handbags from both sides and that the ref had only seen his player's reaction to the initial incident. I suppose the poor old ref can't see everything - he could only adjudicate on what he'd actually seen out of the corner of his eye, so - rightly or wrongly - Four Marks were down to ten men for the last hour.

The last minute winning goal for Sway.
Sway took the lead a few minutes before half-time, when Dan Fairhurst walloped one in from 30 yards, leaving the away keeper grasping thin air - as good a goal as I'll see all season, whether live or on the telly by a top pro. The home team nearly doubled their lead in stoppage time - the crossbar coming to the away side's rescue.

The team in red fully deserved their half-time lead against their unbeaten opponents. Time for some refreshments in the clubhouse - £1 for freshly brewed tea in a mug and a Kit-Kat. You'd be lucky to have a sip of tap water and a Polo mint at a professional club at that price...

Four Marks improved in the second half. They scored a deserved equaliser from the penalty spot after 70 minutes, Steve Brown confidently dispatching a low shot to the Sway keeper Matt Langdown's right. The match could have gone either way after that, but the deciding goal didn't arrive until the 91st minute. A corner from the right was cleared by the Four Marks defence, but the ball came straight back into the box, where it was headed across the goal by Ben McQuoid. Fairhurst reacted quickly with a scissor kick from five yards which looped up and over the keeper's outstretched arms.

Protests from Four Marks followed the goal - for high feet, I think (wasn't there a similar goal disallowed for Crystal Palace earlier in the season?), but after a quick discussion with the club lino wearing a Man U trackie top, the young referee allowed it to stand, blowing the full-time whistle a minute later.

Another of the club's volunteers gathers the flags post-match.
There's a well written match report on Sway's website here.

My next report should be from a Dorset-based Wessex League club on November 7th. Following that, I intend visiting another Wessex League club, but this time in Wiltshire, on November 28th. Beyond that, I had AFC Totton scribbled down as my last pre-Christmas destination on December 12th, but if the weather allows it, I may well rock up at another Hampshire Premier League ground on that day - the 2 o'clock kick-off times are handy for photography at that time of the year - and it will allow me to get to an all-day show at the Joiners an hour earlier than I would otherwise have done...hey, hang on, Southampton has some decent music venues! Perhaps I'll say that the next time I'm asked to justify why I live in the city.

Wherever I go in the Hampshire Premier League in the future, I'm sure I'll end up somewhere pleasant and friendly again.

I'll finish off this week with some bonus shots of the players. No captions, all action...

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Salisbury FC v Folland Sports

Salisbury FC's main stand at the Ray Mac.
If you look up in to the night sky in the right place and at the right time, you can see a million stars with the naked eye. Pick up a pair of binoculars, and you can see a million more. Set up an astronomer's telescope, and another billion would be revealed.

Obviously, I'm not talking about right here, right now - I'm in the middle of a city with all of its bright light pollution, and anyway, it's tipping down with rain out there. If I went outside at this moment, I would be:

(a) very wet indeed; and

(b) unable to see any stars at all.

But if you could theoretically see all the stars in the universe, there would be more fiery orbs out there than there are people on Earth. Therefore, they say that there is a star out there for everyone. You could have a star named after you, a loved one, or a cluster named after all the members of the most successful squad of footballers in your particular club's history.

If you were allocated a faint, twinkling pinprick of light a billion light years away and an unlimited choice by the Star Naming Authorities (whoever they are), who would you name your personal star after?

From below, looking up...
Salisbury FC (1) 4 v 1 (1) Folland Sports FC
Saturday 3rd October 2015
FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round
Attendance: 538
Admission: £8
Programme: £2
Colours: White / black / white v Burgundy / sky blue / burgundy
National Grid reference: SU1533

Follands on the attack in front of the seated areas on the north side of the Ray Mac.
Difficult, isn't it? You'd probably come up with a shortlist containing beloved family members and personal heroes, and then a day or two of mental torture whilst you crossed them off your list one by one and ended up with...I don't know, yourself?

I think I know one person that Salisbury fans would never have on their star list...Outail Touzar. This was the no-goodnik conman that bought Salisbury City for a quid when the previous owners could no longer keep up with their debts. In a story that would resonate with Pompey fans and their years and years of having the lifeblood sucked out of them by dodgy "businessmen", fake Sheiks and convicted gun runners, this penniless twenty-something would pose for photos in front of flash motors as if they belonged to him, he would give false addresses in Gulf states, and would generally do all he could to take whatever he could from SCFC whilst putting nothing in.

Eventually, his bluff was called, and the original club were liquidated before the start of the 2014/15 season, leaving a gap in the Conference South (with two fixtureless weekends for each member club) and another gap in the Non-League Directory's index between Salford City and Saltash United where a Salisbury club should have been.

There's a lengthy thread about all the goings-on here, with plenty of links to other sources if you have a few hours to kill.

Parachutes descending towards the airport behind the far goal.
Salisbury's year of non-existence is over, and they're back, starting all over again as plain old Salisbury FC at their Raymond McEnhill Stadium, three miles from the city centre. Voted in to the Sydenhams Wessex League during the summer, they have to gain three promotions before they reach the same level as the original club.

I arrived at the stadium by car (and it is a "football stadium" as opposed to a "football ground" - on Ordnance Survey maps, a stadium is defined as a pitch which is "fully enclosed with no gaps between the stands and/or terraces", which means that Havant & Waterlooville's Westleigh Park or Eastleigh's Ten Acres are merely "football grounds" with their gaps in the corners). There is a £1 charge for parking, but there is plenty of room for everyone.

The club shop is situated under the main stand outside. They have shirts, but no pin badges yet (they're on order). There is a choice of turnstiles through which to enter the stadium. I chose one to the left. Clicking through and glancing to the left and right, there is a covered terrace of between ten and fifteen steps. This terrace extends the entire width of the pitch behind the goal which Follands were to attack in the first half.

Walking to the far side, you drop down on to an uncovered four step terrace, which encircles the rest of the pitch (excepting the main stand). Breaking the terrace on the far side are two identical elevated Arena kit stands with a gap between them which looks like it could be used as a stage if they ever wished to provide the citizens of Salisbury with a stadium rock concert.

Hard to see, but the ball is there, hidden behind the near post and just about to cross the line for Follands' goal.
The main stand on the entrance side is the focal point. It consists of black plastic seats with executive boxes on the top level. Only two of the five boxes were occupied on Saturday, but not for want of trying on behalf of the commercial department, as they tweeted some bargain prices on the morning of the match. According to the programme, you could hire a box for twelve people for between £150 and £350 per match, if that sort of thing appeals.

There are snack bars at either end of the stand selling small cups of tea for £1.50.

Anyway, one of the first things I noticed upon arrival was the number of flying machines that were circling the stadium. Triplanes, biplanes, gliders and parachutists were all buzzing or floating gently through the rarefied air. It happens that the Ray Mac is next door to an airport, so there was a constant stream of air traffic throughout the match.

I suppose the sound of all the plane engines overhead could have inspired Follands, who up until recently were the works team of GE at Hamble, who make parts for aircraft. Indeed, the club's nickname is The Planemakers. Sadly though, they were a goal down within two minutes, Sam Wilson looping a header in before Follands had even crossed the halfway line for the first time. The fellow next to me on the end terrace turned round to me and said, "Double figures today".

Well, it didn't work out like that. Salisbury had the better players, unsurprisingly, as their relatively large income means they can afford to attract some of the better players in the area (although they say that their wage bill - at 35% of their total income - is only the third-highest in the Wessex League - which begs the question, who is outspending them on one-tenth of their gates? I can hazard a guess, based on hearsay, but I'm not writing it down as I'll be quoted on Wikipedia as a trusted source...).

Follands hit the bar and had a couple of other decent chances, but had to wait until stoppage time for their equaliser. Sam Craven blasted in a 25 yard free-kick given for shirt-pulling.

Disgruntlement from the home fans: "1-1...against this lot?" If there were any Follands fans in the stadium, they would have been very pleased indeed.

Celebrating the equaliser.
The programme for the match was very good, but something bothered me greatly within. It was the player profile. Now, I love player profiles - ever since I used to read the Focus On feature in Shoot! every week as a boy, I've found them fascinating.

This week's profile in the Salisbury prog was of Sam Roberts. He seems like a decent lad - ate a worm whilst he was at school, and would like to invite Justin Bieber and Lionel Messi round for dinner one day. He'd probably feed them his favourite food - chicken.

Fair enough, we've all eaten bugs before (I ate an ant once - it was disgusting, no wonder so few animals eat them - tasted of acid). It was the last line which bamboozled me:

"If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?" Sam's answer was: "to be wedge".

As I'm over 25, I had no idea what this meant. I decided to ask my teenage daughter to translate this unknown slang term for me. She asked me how old he is, and when I replied "20", she said that he must be talking in Nineties (!) slang, as she'd never heard of "wedge". I had to look it up in the Urban Dictionary. Apparently, it means "to be big and muscly". When I told my daughter this, she rolled her eyes and said, "oh, he means he wants to be hench!"

I never had to consult dictionaries of slang when Ron Davies or Ray Hiron were Focussed On...

An abandoned turnstile hut at the far end of the Ray Mac.
The second half was all Salisbury. I haven't got a clue about tactics, but I'm sure Steve Claridge must have changed something at half-time. It was all Whites pressure. However, they lost Callum Hart to a dislocated shoulder whilst the stewards were queuing at the tea bar for their free hot dogs and burgers. A Follands sub warming up in front of me said that he'd had a dislocated shoulder once - they had to put him to sleep to fix it.

Captain Kane O'Keefe scored from twelve yards a few minutes later to make it 2-1. Something you never hear at Wessex League grounds - crowd noise, proper crowd noise - inspired Salisbury to pile forward and make it 3-1 after 73 minutes. They won a free-kick in a similar position to Follands in the first half, and Wilson dispatched it in the same way.

I took a photo of the scoreboard after 93 minutes, thinking that would be a good pic to finish the report off with. Typically, Salisbury then scored a fourth with the last kick of the game through Ashley Jarvis. They deserved the win - Claudio Herbert was a tricky nuisance all afternoon, and their central defensive pairing were as solid as a very solid thing indeed (a rock, perhaps?).

Salisbury will make the relatively short trip to Calne Town in the next round of the Vase. They must be amongst the favourites to reach the final next May. How about a Salisbury FC v Hereford FC showdown at Wembley? That would be quite something.

Hampshire's remaining clubs have mostly been drawn at home on October 31st:

Hartley Wintney v Wokingham & Embrook
Littlehampton Town v Tadley-Calleva
Andover Town v Newhaven
Cove v Canterbury City
Haywards Heath Town v Alton Town
Plymouth Parkway v Blackfield & Langley
Moneyfields v Corsham Town
Horndean v Barnstaple Town
Lymington Town v Wells City
Whitchurch United v Welton Rovers
Team Solent v Cadbury Heath
AFC Portchester v Abbey Rangers
Sholing v Laverstock & Ford

The action is over and it's time for the post-match roller to appear!
There are competent match reports here and here.

By the way, for any Salisbury FC fans who want to name a star after captain Kane O'Keefe - don't do it, it's a rip-off. Only the International Astronomical Union can officially name stars. Any company offering such a service just wants your money. The certificate you may receive in return is worthless. Sorry to bring bad tidings.

It's Non-League Day next Saturday. I shall be at an FA Cup match (probably Brockenhurst v Wealdstone, cheering on The Badgers). I won't be writing about it - two weeks in a row of doing this is enough. I'll be back on here the week after covering a Hampshire Premier Football League game.

Other than at Brock, there are two other immense David v Goliath FA Cup ties locally - Blackfield & Langley v Maidenhead United and Petersfield Town v St Albans. Either club would love to see you if you fancy a rip-roaring cup tie on October 10th.