Monday, 30 November 2015

Bemerton Heath Harlequins v Andover Town

The changing rooms at Bemerton Heath Harlequins FC.
I was recently approached by a publishing company to write a book for them, aimed at the Christmas gift market. They specialise in cheaply made club-based books of trivia. They've successfully produced books of facts on most Premiership clubs, many clubs in the Football League, plus Celtic and Rangers. You may have seen some of their titles for sale in bargain book stores - The Bumper Book of Arsenal Fun And Facts was their top-selling title last Christmas - at a cover price of £4.99, it was a no-brainer stocking gift for the Arsenal fan in your life.

However, open the book and delve in on a Christmas morning, and the Arsenal fan in your life would be extremely disappointed - a hundred pages of "trivia" copy/pasted from Wikipedia and other sources on the internet, with line drawing illustrations to fill out the white space which your little brother could have knocked out in two minutes (and probably did). Nothing the Arsenal fan didn't already know. A book destined to be put down and forgotten about within five minutes of opening the covers.

Anyway, Cheap & Tatty Primary Gifting Season Products of Westbury got in touch with me three weeks ago. They'd seen the telly programme about the Class of '92 and were under the impression that the next growth market in football publishing would be trivia books about non-league clubs. They asked me to knock out a book about Glossop North End by the end of the week. Well, their offer of 50p and a bag of marbles was too good to turn down. I signed the contract, and two evenings later, the publishers had their book.

But I hadn't read the contract properly. They paid me the 50p, but what I hadn't noticed in the small print was that I was supposed to write a second book if I wanted the bag of marbles, and that if I hadn't produced a new title by midnight on Monday, their lawyers would be e-mailing me first thing Tuesday morning. They left me to choose the club to cover.

Chequerboard seats in Bemerton's stand. Anyone for chess?
Bemerton Heath Harlequins FC (2) 2 v 1 (0) Andover Town FC
Saturday 28th November 2015
Sydenhams Wessex Premier League
Attendance: 50-ish
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: Black and white hoops / black / black v All blue
National Grid reference: SU1131

Andover fans tie their flag to the rail at the front of the Les Pantlin Stand.
Anyway, it's Monday now, and I know the readers of Hopping Around Hampshire are expecting a new match report this evening. I'm just going to have to multi-task if I'm going to get both things done on time. Excuse me if I have to drop a few made-up pieces of trivia into this report. I have a book to write before midnight...

I've chosen to write about Bemerton Heath Harlequins for the book, as I visited them on Saturday for their Wessex League game against Andover Town. Now, where to begin? I know, a bit of background detail about the area. Let's have a look on Wikipedia and come up with a few facts:

  • Bemerton Heath Harlequins are based in the Bemerton Heath area of Salisbury, which is mostly a post-war council estate, with a few older buildings dotted around from when Bemerton was a separate village.
  • The Bemerton Heath estate was notorious in the 1970s as the place where the Stuffing Ball Wars erupted. Everyone ate roast dinners on a Sunday in the '70s. However, in 1973, there was an acute shortage of stuffing due to the failure of the sage crop. Two rival gangs in Bemerton got hold of a lorry-load of Paxo and were able to sell it on at a tasty profit until they fell out with each other. Both gangs had guns, but this being the '70s, there was a shortage of bullets that year, so they made makeshift bullets out of stuffing balls. For a few days in July, the streets of Bemerton were alive with the sound of gunshots. Luckily, no-one was killed, but to this day you still see old-timers walking around the mean streets of Bemerton with sage and onion scars on their cheeks.
Hmm, that sounds a bit unlikely, but it was on Wikipedia, so it must be right.

Okay, what next? I have another 98 pages to fill...

How about the formation of the club?

  • Bemerton Heath Harlequins were formed in 1989 as the result of a merger between three strong local sides: Bemerton Athletic, Moon FC and Bemerton Boys. All three clubs had been successful and wanted to try their hand in the Wessex League.
What next? The Moon FC? The Moon! Facts about the Moon!
  • It has recently been accepted by leading scientists that the Moon is made of cheese.
  • Cheese is one of the main ingredients of Twiglets.
  • When you eat a packet of Twiglets, there are always a few broken Twiglets and a whole load of Marmitey dust left at the bottom of the packet. The collective name for this detritus is Twiglet giblets.
Jeez, this is harder than I thought! I must stop straying off the subject. At least Cheap & Tatty Inc don't have any proof readers, so nobody will notice the irrelevant stuff. Let's move on:
  • The new Bemerton Heath Harlequins club were accepted in to the Wessex League immediately and finished 8th (of 19) in their first season.
  • Since then, the club have finished in the top five of the league on eight occasions - their best seasons being 2010/11 and 2011/12 when they were runners-up.
  • Harlequins have never been relegated since their formation.
That's better, sticking to the subject now. That must be another five pages filled.

Andover Town's Oliver Yates waits for the ball to reach him on the left wing.
Okay, what next? I know, their kit:
  • Bemerton Heath Harlequins used to play in black and white quarters - similar in style to Bristol Rovers.
  • At other times, the club have played in black and white halved shirts, similar to Blackburn Rovers.
  • Currently, they play in narrow black and white hoops, the same kit as Scotland's Queen's Park, otherwise known as The Spiders.
  • Terry Woodcock of Bemerton Heath owns the world's largest collection of Guatemalan Fighting Spiders. He tours the school fairs of South Wiltshire with his famous arachnids. He has created a Fighting Arena for them out of an old Battling Tops stadium with a hand-made see-through perspex roof. For 50p, he will paint a spider's torso with your favourite club's colours and set them up against another spider painted in your club's enemy's colours. The spiders then fight to the death. During the last World Cup, Terry used his fighting spiders to predict each match in the tournament, after hearing about Paul the Octopus in Germany correctly predicting each score in the competition. Terry used the result produced by his fighting spiders to place bets on each match. He lost a lot of money.
Good, good, I'm getting somewhere. I think I should finish this by midnight.

The winning goal from Harlequins' Russell Cook.
I'd better write my match report for Hopping Around Hampshire now. Once I've done that, I'll search the 'net for information about Bemerton's badge, some well-known ex-players, a few crucial matches from the past...should be alright for midnight.

The weather forecast was atrocious for Saturday. Rain, strong winds, general misery all expected. As it turned out, the rain kept off until near the end of the match, and the 70mph gusts may well have occurred, but Western Way is well sheltered by leylandii on three sides, so the wind wasn't noticable. Indeed, playing conditions couldn't have been much better considering the time of year.

Even so, I arrived early, just in case the game was called off (I would have diverted to Pewsey Vale if that scenario had happened). With a near-full car park and shouts from players warming up on the practice pitch to greet me, I knew it was "game on" without enquiring within. As I was there before the turnstile had opened, I went into the clubhouse. It's a big one - built at the same time the club was formed by voluntary labour, and since extended.

Two big tellies were showing the early kick-off at Charlton Athletic and a darts tournament respectively. Darts seems to be popular at Bemerton - there are two dartboards in the club, and on the walls as you enter the front door, immediately to your left and right are two large wooden boards listing all their darts, pool and crib champions since 1989, lettering lovingly applied in gold leaf. (Note to self: check to see whether any of the crib tournaments was won by a last-minute "one for his knob" on the final cut - would be an interesting fact for the book).

Whilst I sat and watched the darts on the telly with the sound turned down, I hummed along to the greatest hits of country music, which was being piped over the speakers: "Sylvia's Mother" (TUNE!), "It's Four In The Morning" (TUNE!), "Rose Garden" (TUNE!). I couldn't remember who sung Rose Garden, and it bothered me for most of the first half until it suddenly struck me...

Lynn Anderson!

Seats for the Plumbs.
Bemerton Heath Harlequins were 2-0 up before Lynn Anderson's name entered my trivia-fried brain. Both goals were similar - long balls played through the middle of Andover's defence for Bemerton's strikers to run on to. The first one-on-one was converted by Sam Griffin, low to Jamie Bray's right; the second by Russell Cook, this time to Bray's left. It hadn't been all one-way traffic towards Andover's goal - the away side had hit the bar before the second goal went in, but Andover's fans were feeling down - the half-pint on their flag being more half-empty than half-full before thirty minutes had passed.

Andover had come to Bemerton riding high in the league - it was mid-table versus second. Despite the two goal margin, I always thought that the away side had enough about them to come back in the second period, and so it would have proved, but for some rock-solid defensive work and inspired goalkeeping from the home side. Andover did everything but score. An absolute scorcher from the boot of sub Kuiars from 25 yards smacked against the bar on 75 minutes. Surely, surely, they would score at least once?

The Andover fans behind the goal were in good spirits - they "only sing when we're losing" - and with only two defeats all season up until Saturday, they haven't been singing very much.

The goal did come eventually. A scramble in the box, and a blue-shirted player (just hidden from view for me behind a couple of defenders) toe-poked the ball downhill, very very slowly. The ball hit the inside of the post and just rolled over the line before it stopped. With three minutes remaining, Andover piled forward again, looking for the equaliser, but it never came.

There may be other match reports on the 'web, but I haven't seen one yet. There was a press cameraman there, and somebody taking reams and reams of notes (that wouldn't be me then), so there must be a report somewhere...perhaps it was for paper press only?

Right, I'd better get on and finish that book. I've got another four hours or so until midnight. Forgive me for ruining this match report with all that trivia, but you could tell how much pressure I was under to meet that deadline.

In Hopping Around Hampshire news, I've set up a Facebook group since the last report. You can find it here. It's a Public group, so I think anyone on Facebook can see it without necessarily joining. I'll be using it to upload extra photos from each match I cover on here. If anybody else wants to join in and post a few photos, please feel free to do so. Keith Legg of Sholing has uploaded some pics from their recent Vase match at Buckland Athletic, and I've put a few up from my trip to North Wales last week where I visited Porthmadog FC. Apologies to anyone who isn't on Facebook - I wasn't myself until a few weeks ago, so I know how annoying it is when someone posts a link to the site and you can't see it. I should know better.

Oh, and 100,000 all-time page views have been clocked up since last time, so thank you to all my readers out there. I feel reasonably popular.


  1. Good work again Andrew, however I'm sure Joe Prodomo is the Bemerton keeper. Jamie Bray was probably the Andover Gk.

  2. Whoops! I've done it again! Thanks Jamie, I'll fix that straight away!