Monday, 14 December 2015

Alton Town v East Cowes Victoria Athletic

The final game at the Bass, as advertised outside the gate.
[Reader's voice: Hey, Andy! You're normally pretty good at publishing match reports on the Monday or Tuesday after a game! Why has this one taken so long?]

Ah, it's a long story, dear reader! This is the short version:

Firstly, I had no intention of going to Alton Town for their final match at the Bass Sports Ground (pronounce Bass as in "Mass" for the southerners reading this - or "Class" for my northern friends; and not as in "Bass, how low can you go?" for the Public Enemy fans amongst you). I'd woken up on the morning of Saturday 5th December hoping to go to Romsey Town's Bypass Ground to see them play promotion-chasing Amesbury Town. Unfortunately, the game was called off due to a tree root becoming exposed on the pitch (obviously quite a dangerous thing if a player should twist an ankle on it or fall on it knee-first). As it happened, Romsey got a bit of publicity out of this, being featured on BBC 5Live's Non-League Show, amongst other media outlets. Romsey Town fans were "stumped" by this turn of events, apparently.

So, I looked at the fixtures afresh, and decided that Alton Town would be a good alternative for my Saturday afternoon footy fix. I'd liked the Bass Sports Ground immensely on my previous visit. I'd liked the spirit of the people of Alton, standing up to Molson-Coors' corporate bullying in large numbers, and I'd loved the old stand, broken but unbowed, defiantly old school. It would be my last chance to go there, so...go there I did, to say goodbye and to pay my respects.

Leaving the pavilion changing rooms for one final match.
Alton Town FC (2) 4 v 0 (0) East Cowes Victoria Athletic FC
Saturday 5th December 2015
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 102
Admission: £5
Programme: £2 (an excellent end-of-an-era special with plenty of colour photos. Badges were also on sale at the turnstile)
Colours: White / black / black and white hoops v Yellow / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7240

The bench seats in the stand went black-white-black-white...all the way up. This is one of the white benches from the side.
The famous train picture. I mean, it's alright, but I thought I'd got myself a photo to rival one of Jurgen Vantomme's best...
I went to Alton, I took my camera, but I still hadn't intended writing about this match. I was going to do a report on Otterbourne v Hamble Club in the Hampshire Premier Football League on the 12th as my final pre-Christmas missive. But, with all the rain this past week, the game at Otterbourne was called off. So, I had a problem: should I leave my last pre-Christmas report to the final Saturday before Christmas, risking another postponement, or should I write about Alton instead?

I'd have to write about Alton Town with no new photos. What do you mean, you ask - there's eight pictures here...

True enough. But I'd lost them all. I'd come home from Alton last Saturday evening, and whilst uploading the match photos to my PC, the programme that I use for uploading crashed, wiping all my pics from the memory card. They were gone, seemingly forever. Whatever I did, I couldn't find a way of getting them back.

In the meantime, I told the other members of the HAH Facebook group how amazing these photos of the Bass Sports Ground had been, exaggerating in the manner of an old fisherman describing the ones that had gotten away. There was the warm and fuzzy pic of the tea urn, boiling away in the boardroom post-match with Christmas fairy lights twinkling away in the background; there was the poignant one of the fella writing out his match report, taken through the broken perspex of the old stand - the last person sat in the stand at the very last match at the ground; then there was the train picture - the famous train picture, which in my mind rivalled one of the great football photographer Jurgen Vantomme's finest...

Peeking at the stand through a gate.
Post-match huddle for Alton Town.
How did I get the photos back in the end? Well, it was like a miracle, one of the Yuletide variety. When Otterbourne's game was called off, I decided to go and watch Romsey Town play away at Totton & Eling. And yes, I took my camera. The pictures from Alton were still not there as I snapped away in the late afternoon gloom at Millers Park...until I wandered out of the ground with ten minutes remaining to take a pic of some AFC Totton fans next door (they were thrashing Bishops Cleeve 7-0 and looked pretty happy). As I steadied my camera to take the photo, I suddenly saw a picture of a squirrel on the screen...then a cat...then another cat...and then some puffins...and, what was this? The pictures from Alton were back! I have no idea how that happened! I didn't touch anything - it just happened...

...and here they are! (I'll be posting a few more on the Facebook page later).

The last man in the stand at the final match, busily scribbling down his match report.
I'm glad I went to the Bass Sports Ground for one last visit. The first thing I noticed was that the bowling green behind the stand had been abandoned. Next to the bowling green, the once-thriving tennis courts were derelict, with saplings growing through the tarmac. Inside the football ground, the old stand had not seen any love for quite some time - although, as the club knew they'd be leaving many years ago, it's easy to understand why the old girl hadn't had a lick of paint for so long. Where the broken perspex sides had been left unrepaired, rain had blown in and made the top corners of the stand, in particular, damp to the point of nearly rotten. Walking around the stand, with the floorboards bouncing beneath my feet, I was afraid that I might tread on some rotten wood and fall through. It didn't happen though.

It was one of those days when it seemed like everyone else was carrying a camera - there was Howard Gadsby, a former player who was there on behalf of the club. He had access all areas and took a superb set of photos, which you can see on Flickr here. Then there was poor old Paul Paxford, hobbling around the pitch grimacing from backache.

Then over there was a film camera. I didn't ask why the cameraman was there at the time, but it turns out that he was filming a short piece for Sky Sports on Liam Priday, the 4-year-old boy from Havant who has been to 100 different football grounds with his dad, Chris. You can watch the report on Liam here - it also features Alton's first goal and plenty of footage of the ground. Oh, how I wish I'd owned all those Corinthian figures when I was four!

As before at Alton Town, everyone was very friendly. I spent some time speaking with an old fan who reminisced with me about the good old days at Alton, when they were a major force in amateur football, about some of the big matches against some of the famous London amateur clubs of the 1950s and 1960s, when there were regular large crowds to cheer on the team. He was sad that the Bass Ground would be covered in rabbit hutch houses in a year from now - he was equally sad that Molson-Coors had shut down the brewery in town and sold it for housing - the biggest employer for miles around, taken over by a faceless American corporation, asset stripped and then shut down, just like that.

The kettle steaming away in the boardroom guessed it, one last time at the Bass.
Alton's most famous footballing son, Jimmy Dickinson, would not have approved. However, I'm sure Gentleman Jim would be raising a glass to The Brewers' future at their new home just up the hill.

Secondary to the occasion was the match itself, which Alton Town won easily enough, by 4-0. They had the wind behind them in the first half and took a 2-0 lead early on. It looked like it could be an 8 or 9 goal thrashing at that point, but credit to East Cowes, who dug in and kept the score down to 2-0 until late in the second half, when Alton scored twice more to give the old ground a decent send off.

There's a lovely tribute to the Bass from Alton's Mr Chairman here. So much more eloquent than anything I've ever written.

I'll visit Alton Town's new ground in the New Year. By all accounts, they had a grand old time at the opening ceremony this Saturday just gone. Another big win in front of a crowd of over 200. I read that Mr Chairman was also handing out free crisps. I don't know whether Jimmy Dickinson would have approved of this, but I certainly do!

The festive roller round-up will be my next post. After that, I'll be back on either January 9th or the 16th for my 93rd match report on HAH. See you then.

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