Friday, 30 December 2016

The Sixth Annual Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers

Bridport FC. Well camouflaged.
I hate to be the bringer of bad tidings at this time of celebration, but I've noticed a worrying trend over the past few months. I've travelled hither and thither watching football matches since August, often reporting on them for Hopping Around Hampshire. On my travels, I keep a beady eye out for rusty groundsmen's equipment - if you're a regular reader, you'll be familiar with my Festive Parades and End of Season Round-ups of roller photos, e.g., here and here. Despite being the inventor* of the least popular side of the standard four-sided cheese-grater (the one with sticky out spikes that everyone cuts their fingers on), the roller photos are what I'm best known for.

Sadly, this season, I've noticed a worrying decline in the number of rollers at the grounds that I've visited.

*Not really, I made that up.

Shaftesbury FC. Inoculated.
I rang an ex-schoolfriend of mine yesterday evening to find out what was happening. My friend-made-good is Dr Mark White-Lines, the Emeritus Professor of Grassology at the University of Maryland. He's been studying rollers for several years now, and has a number of theories about their decline.

Firstly, there has been an outbreak of rusty roller disease in the UK this year. It's a lot like myxomatosis in rabbits, in that it strikes quickly and can wipe out entire roller populations within weeks if they haven't been inoculated beforehand. Dr Mark thinks that the disease arrived on board a container ship docking at Southampton early in 2016, which explains the lack of any rollers at the three Hampshire League grounds I've visited over the last few months (either that, or they've been safely locked away in store rooms on the day of my visit - Dr Mark wasn't sure).

Shaftesbury FC. The Chaser.
My friend has been testing another hypothesis recently. He thinks that illegal hunting may have had an effect on the local roller population. It's a well-known fact that roller rust is an essential ingredient in a rural Chinese medicine for genital herpes. Mixed with tiger claw and swallow spit, rubbed gently in to the affected areas, apparently this potion works wonders.

Poachers are paid a small fortune for the right kind of roller rust, and apparently, the damp British climate produces the perfect type of rust for the Chinese medicine-makers. Dr Mark wants me to ask around the grounds in the second half of the season to root out any evidence of this trade in the UK.

Goodwick United. Safe in Wales.
My friend has looked in to the effects of climate change on the decline in rollers, but has found no evidence thus far that our less stable climate has killed off any groundsmen's equipment.

However, climate change often leads to habitat change, which for many plants, insects and mammals which can't adapt quickly enough, can devastate their populations. Sudden manmade habitat change can be even more disastrous, and Dr Mark has identified a major cause of roller decline in this area of study.

He's noted the rise in artificial football pitches in the UK and has concluded that rollers are no longer needed at the likes of Hamworthy United or Alton FC. This would explain their disappearance at these specific locations, he has concluded.

Conwy Borough. Friend of the hosepipes.
Looking at the rusty rollers that I have seen on my travels, it may be worth investigating how they've escaped the cull this season, so that Dr Mark can create a plan for the remaining members of the species' survival. Starting off at Bridport in the top photo, it's striking how well camouflaged the roller and the wheelbarrow are, hidden in the long grass. This looks like a good plan to thwart the poachers. Dr Mark will recommend this action in his soon-to-be-published thesis.

Moving on to Shaftesbury, which is close to the edge of the disease zone, their roller was inoculated in good time and looks very healthy. It also has a vicious attack-mower (christened "The Chaser") to guard it from poaching. Dr Mark will recommend both of these methods of survival in his report.

Wales is a long way from the centre of the disease outbreak, and is also outside of the poachers' zone of operations, so the rollers at Goodwick United in Pembrokeshire and Conwy Borough on the North Wales coast should be relatively safe. However, the roller at Conwy has taken precautionary measures by surrounding itself with hosepipes. In the event of attack, it will use the hosepipes as a water cannon substitute. Good idea. Not sure why it has a whitewashed Mercedes badge. I'll leave it to Dr Mark investigate.

Worthing FC. Invasive species.
Sadly, it's too late for the rollers at Worthing FC, where the pitch is now one of the many 4G surfaces rapidly invading our football grounds. The club's trusty rollers have been replaced by a mini-tractor which spreads little rubber balls over the playing surface. What has happened to the rollers at Worthing? Nobody knows, but we can speculate. Were they flushed down the toilet like dead goldfish? Have they been locked up in a dungeon beneath the main stand? Were they donated to a local cricket club as a goodwill gesture? Let's hope it was the latter.

Dr Mark White-Lines will publish his report in to the disappearance of rusty rollers in the UK early in 2017. In the meantime, I shall assist him by finding rollers at grounds I visit in the new year and seeing how they've survived.

Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for reading HAH as I reach the end of my sixth full year of doing this. Year 7 will start on January 14th, weather permitting!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Southampton Women's FC v Swindon Town Ladies FC

Hats for sale at Southampton Women's FC!
I'm going to start this match report with a question...

Tell me, which is Hampshire's most successful club in national competitions?

To which, the Saints fans reading this would reply, "We are! We've been in the top division of the national league for longer than Pompey! We've won the FA Cup once and been beaten finalists three times! We were runners-up in the old Football League First Division, we've won Division Three and Division Three South once each, and don't forget the Johnstone's Paint Trophy! We've beaten Pompey 34 times and lost to them only 21 times! It must be us!"

Pompey fans would sniff, roll their eyes, and proclaim, "It's obviously us! Champions of England in 1949 and 1950, FA Cup winners in 1939 and 2008, runners-up three times. And if you're going to include divisional titles, we've won four of those! Oh, and we've also won the Charity Shield!"

Both arguments have their merits, but there is another very successful club in Hampshire. And it's not Aldershot Town...

The home side warming up.
Southampton Women's FC v Swindon Town Ladies FC (at AFC Totton - postponed)
SSE Women's FA Cup First Round Proper
Sunday 4th December 2016
Attendance: 50-100
Admission: £3
Programme: Free
Colours: Red / black / red v White / red / black
National Grid reference: SU3415

Uh-oh! Here comes trouble!
This other club won the FA Cup eight times between 1971 and 1981. Do you know who it is?

That's right, Southampton Women's Football Club have just as big a claim to be Hampshire's most successful club as the Big Two men's teams. Formed in 1970, they were immediately successful, winning the cup in 1970/71, beating the Scottish club Stewarton & Thistle in the final at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. They retained the cup for the following two seasons, beating Scottish sides on both occasions. They were beaten finalists in 1973/74, but then won the cup again in four of the next five seasons, including 1975/76 to make it a men's / women's double FA Cup victory for the city. In fact, they reached the final in every season of the 1970s - nine in a row, which is a record that will probably never be beaten (although Arsenal came close recently with six finals in a row).

If you study the list of finalists closely, you'll see that two more clubs from the city have reached the Women's FA Cup final since then - Red Star in 1992 and Southampton Saints in 1999. These are in fact one and the same club, but not connected to Southampton Women - they are Southampton Saints Girls & Ladies FC, who play their home games at Sholing FC.

Extreme danger. Not even buckets of warm water could make this corner safe.
Southampton Women have never really hit such great heights again since their '70s heyday - indeed, they came close to folding through lack of players not so long ago. However, they're on their way back now, with the club once more thriving. Last season, they won the Southern Region Women's Football League Division One - Northern (level 6 in the women's football pyramid if you include the summertime FA Women's Super League as levels 1 and 2, or level 4 of the winter leagues). This season, they've won every match they've played in the Southern Region Women's Football League Premier Division (level 5, or level 3 of the winter leagues), as well as every cup game so far.

To reach the First Round Proper of the Women's FA Cup, they'd beaten Bournemouth Sports, Fleet Town and Shanklin. Their opponents on Sunday were to be Swindon Town Ladies, who play one level higher, but who had only won two league games all season. It promised to be a close, competitive game. Indeed, it should have been one of the ties of the round, which is why I chose to pop along to AFC Totton's ground on Sunday to watch it.

The Swindon players head over to the corner for a look.
All was well upon arrival. I paid my £3 at the turnstile, which gave me entrance to the ground plus an eight page colour programme. Inside the entrance, there was a box full of hats for sale - a good idea on a cold December day. As I wandered towards the stand, a man walked past with a bucket of water. I thought little of this incident. I guessed he was on his way to one of the dugouts - you can't have an effective magic sponge without a bucket of water, after all. I recalled the time at school when I was on the bench and the games master gave me a bucket. It didn't occur to me that he wanted the bucket filled with water - the penny only dropped when one of my team mates went down injured during the first half and the games master ran over towards me, gesturing at me with his dry sponge...

Time for a serious discussion.
I carried on walking around the familiar ground as the Southampton players warmed up at the entrance end and the Swindon players at the far end. I was looking forward to this match. It was five degrees above freezing, but I was wrapped up warm enough, and I could always sit in the main stand which was enjoying the full rays of the mid-afternoon sun. It was the perfect early winter's afternoon, just right for a rambunctious cup tie.

There was frost along the goal line at the far end where the sun hadn't warmed the turf up yet, but nothing to worry about - it barely reached over the line. As I turned around to watch the players wander back to the dressing rooms for their final preparations with fifteen minutes to go before kick-off, I noticed the referee and his assistants striding purposefully towards the corner that I was closest to, hands in pockets, looking purposeful. Behind them were two men with buckets of water. It still didn't occur to me that the pitch even needed an inspection, let alone there being any danger of the match being off, so I did wonder what they could possibly be doing - perhaps they were coming out for a last-minute warm up?

"Perhaps if we jump up and down on the turf, we'll heat it up enough so the ice will melt?!"
They reached the corner and started prodding. It slowly dawned on me...this was a pitch inspection! Surely, surely, they can't call this one off with just five minutes to go before kick-off? If you'd placed a giant chess board over the pitch, one-tenth of one square could potentially still be frozen! But there they were, poking, prodding, whispering to one another, looking serious. Buckets of water were being poured over the corner to heat it up, to melt what little ice there might have been over there.

The officials went back to the dressing rooms with the bucket-carrying volunteers shaking their heads, looking concerned. Two minutes later, the Swindon players walked over to the corner, closely followed by the Southampton team. Phones were whipped out to photograph the grass. A selfie or two was taken. Players jumped up and down on the icy turf, hoping to loosen it up a little.

Eventually, the message came out that kick-off had been delayed by thirty minutes to allow time for the buckets of water to take effect - there would be another inspection at 2:30. Disbelieving glances and cuss words were exchanged amongst the supporters - some of whom must have driven from Swindon - a two hour round trip. Had we all wasted our time because the linesman on the far side was refusing to run the far line? Why didn't he swap sides and come over to the sunny side of the ground?

Another bucket of warm water, but by now it was too late.
Then there came a rumour that the Swindon team had gotten changed and were preparing to go home. There was to be no second inspection after all. Everyone in the ground over the age of thirty then exchanged stories about the times they'd played on pitches that were entirely covered in hard frost or snow and nobody ever got injured - and "that was only a few years ago! Referees are afraid they'll be sued these days!"

Whether or not refs would be sued in the event of serious injury is a moot point (I don't know of any cases of this happening), but they are responsible for all the participants' safety. I shall be charitable and say that this was a very, very soft postponement. The Swindon manager agreed in this article here.

The match has been rearranged for next Sunday (11th December), but this time, it will be played at Hamble Club's home ground at 1pm. It's still an attractive tie between two well-matched teams and it will be free entry to make it even better! It's another two hour round trip for Swindon and their fans. Let's hope it goes ahead this time - all the other matches in the cup were played on Sunday after all, including the Southampton Saints home tie at Sholing, just a few short miles away.

HAH will now take a break for Christmas. There will be a roller round-up over the festive period, but the next match report is likely to be on January 14th. Have a good one!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Winchester Castle v Fleetlands

Here come Fleetlands FC, coming down the steps from Winchester Castle's away changing room.
I've watched a lot of football games in my time, and I've seen a lot of strange things. Up until Saturday, I'd never seen a linesman score a goal!

The quiet men/women on the sidelines, the referee's helpers, the butt of abuse whenever the home support think they've got an important decision wrong. A thankless task. I've seen a lot of good linesmen and quite a few poor ones. Having mostly watched football at the top ten levels of the game, the linos are paid to officiate and are neutral. Below the top ten levels, club men run the line - either one of the club volunteers or a substitute.

At this level, they're generally just as competent as the referee's assistants at the higher levels, and I've yet to see one knowingly cheat to give his own side an advantage - that's just not on. The worst assistant I've seen recently was a Ferring sub who clearly didn't know the rules - he was equally useless for his own team as he was for the opposition.

And then I've seen a club linesman throw his flag to the ground and stand there with his arms folded for the last twenty minutes of a game when he felt he'd taken enough unfair abuse from the opposition players - this was during a Scottish Junior match at Benburb when I was working in Glasgow a few years ago. The referee seemed used to it. They carried on and the man in the middle had to make the offside calls on his own for the final part of the game.

But I'd never seen a linesman score a goal before. Until Saturday.

That's the M3 in the background, cutting through Twyford Down.
Winchester Castle FC (0) 2 v 2 (1) Fleetlands FC
Saturday 26th November 2016
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Attendance: 15
Admission: £0
Programme: No
Colours: Red and black stripes / red / red v All sky blue
National Grid reference: SU5028

Fleetlands celebrate their first goal.
If you've ever played at, or watched a game at Winchester Castle's Hampshire County Council ground, you'll know how exposed it is. Turning off the A31 almost as soon as you get on it from the Winchester side, up you go, along a narrow tarmacced road, past a field of bored-looking horses on your right and a field of cut wheat on the left. Up and up, the air becomes thinner towards the top of the road, but eventually you reach a car park.
You're on a flat hilltop plateau - Hampshire's equivalent of Patagonia - with the South Downs rising to the north and south, our very own Andes (minus the llamas and gauchos).

Often, it's windy up here. If there's a howling easterly, there's nothing between the football pitches and Siberia to stop the biting cold. It's November now, so you expect the worst. Wrap up warm for Winchester Castle - thermal underwear, woolly hat, scarf, gloves, two pairs of socks...

Heads I win!
And so it was on Saturday, as I visited Winchester Castle for their Hampshire Premier Football League game against Gosport's Fleetlands. Thermals? Check! Woolly hat? Check! And so on.

Then I stepped outside the car on to the crunchy gravel of the car park and...the air was still. Not a breath. No scarf required, only one pair of socks needed. It might be nearly winter in Hampshire, but it wasn't so bad. A bit nippy, but it could have been much worse. Just the gloomy sky above to spoil things, creating a monochrome view of the surrounding hills.

A cup of tea wouldn't go amiss though...

The clubhouse is spacious and light. Sitting down on one of the beige leather settees with a steaming hot cuppa in my hands, watching the players warming up outside through the large windows, exhaling steam in to the air, it was tempting just to remain there for the rest of the afternoon watching the match unfold.

One problem with that though - the main pitch is a long way from the clubhouse. You have to cross two other pitches to get to the first team's railed off pitch over the far side of the plateau. No lazing around then. Needs must. It was getting a bit noisy in the clubhouse anyway, as the dressing rooms are on either side of the lounge and some banging basslines were thumping their way through the home dressing room's walls. Time to go.

Fleetlands fans engrossed in the game, viewing from the covered shelter.

As you cross the plateau, glance to your left and there is Magdalen Down rising up above you. This is a wildlife sanctuary. During the summer, the south facing slope is the best place to find rare butterflies in the county, or so I have been told. Today, a herd of cows were chomping their way through the bracken, creating a safe space for their insect buddies.

Over to the right is Twyford Down, scene of protests during the early 1990s as the M3 extension was built, cutting the hill in two. Behind you is the city of Winchester. On a sunny day, it would be a pleasing sight, but on Saturday, it was a misty, amorphous blob of gloom.

More spectators. Gloomy sky.
Eventually, you reach the main pitch, which is fully railed off. On the far side is what they call the "football furniture". This consists of a handmade tin shelter, old, ramshackle and characterful. The shelter is split in to two halves, both of which have their own open entrance with boarding put up to protect spectators from any driving wind or rain. On one side, there is a bench seat at the back, then on the other, it's standing only on a bed of cinders.

Equally ramshackle are the two hand-built dugouts, also made of rusting metal, and also brilliant to see - with all the characterless, identical (albeit cheap and useful) plastic dugouts around, these old structures were much appreciated. All three structures would have been at home in one of the local farmyards.

Behind the shelter and dugouts is a grass bank, which gave a splendid elevated view of the action (and also a great place to play for the children in attendance - what's more thrilling than running down a steep grass bank when you're seven years old?).

But who are Winchester Castle, and why do they play up here on the plateau? The original club were formed in 1960 and played most of their football in the lower reaches of the old Hampshire League. They were relatively successful around the turn of the century, whereas their neighbours down in the valley, Winchester City, were having a bad time.

The two clubs merged in 2001, creating a kind of "super club" for Winchester. The super club's first team and reserves played at the Denplan City Ground, whereas the A and B teams used the pitches at the HCC ground. When the A side applied to join the Hampshire League in 2006, they were refused entry, as the league didn't accept reserve sides.

Hence, Winchester City's A team reverted to being Winchester Castle so that they could play at the level they wanted to. City and Castle are now separate clubs, although they play in the same colours.

The arrangement seems to have worked for City, as they went from strength to strength, now playing in the Southern League. Castle are quite happy in the Hampshire Premier Football League, where they generally finish in mid-table.

We were in to the final minute of injury time. The game had been fairly routine for the first 75 minutes. Fleetlands had taken the lead after ten minutes, Craig Haddesley breaking free on the left and slotting the ball low in to the far corner to cue celebrations amongst his team-mates and their small band of followers. After that, there were chances, sure, but the forwards had mostly left their shooting boots back in the changing rooms, with neither keeper having to make many saves.

It took the self-introduction of Castle player-manager Stewart Beck fifteen minutes from time to really shake things up. After several minutes of intense pressure during which the home side had hit the post and gone close to equalising a few more times, they were awarded a penalty for a trip in the six yard box. Unfortunately, Dave Philpott blasted the ball over the bar. That could have been their big chance gone, but Beck had other ideas, steaming at the Fleetlands defence like a wild bull over and over again, until he finally hooked one in from the right to make it 1-1. Running over to the corner flag to celebrate, hand cocked over his right ear to soak up the imaginary crowd's adulation, he might have been happy with a point right there and then.

Trooping off back to the dressing rooms after a good-natured encounter.
"How long to go, ref?" "One minute, plus two minutes added on!"

That should have been that, but Fleetlands thought they'd spoiled their hosts' day in injury time, Jake Bull chipping the advancing Castle keeper to seemingly win the match. Surely, surely, that really was that?

But it wasn't, as Fleetlands conceded a corner within 30 seconds of the restart. With everyone in the box, barring the home side's keeper, the ball was floated in, and...who was that at the back post? Hadn't he been running the line earlier? It was Adam Price, the club linesman who had since come on as a sub for Castle. He rose higher than anyone else and headed the ball back across the goal in to the far corner. Did I mention it was the final minute of injury time? Ecstacy in the ranks as the whole team mobbed their hero.

One last kick, as Fleetlands passed the ball back from the restart, and the ref blew his whistle! What a finish to the game!

More photos from Winchester Castle will be uploaded to the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page early tomorrow evening.

There will be more reports from the Hampshire Premier Football League in 2017 (I've promised two clubs that I will visit them, and visit them I shall!).

One more match report from HAH before Christmas, and weather permitting, that will be next weekend - either from an FA Vase tie, or from the Women's FA Cup. I'll decide where to go later in the week.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Corinthian v Alresford Town

Corinthian's electronic scoreboard, after it stopped working in the second half.
I read this book about a year ago - the name escapes me right now - it was about people and places which don't appear on any maps. The author wrote about shanty towns, nomadic tribesmen, and the numerous newly-built cities in China where almost nobody lives, because 90% of the houses have been sold to speculators purely so that they can sell them on to each other to make a profit (the same "businessmen" do the same with new flats in London, by all accounts, helping to push up house prices even further here).

The most interesting case study in the book was that of the North Korean city of Kijong-dong, which is visible from the border with South Korea. Apparently, this ghost city (it's completely empty of any inhabitants) is fully lit at night, with gaudy flashing lights advertising heaven knows what pointing straight at their southern neighbours. It uses up half the electricity supply of the North (the other half will undoubtedly be used by Kim Jong-un and his acolytes in Pyongyang). This city is virtually the only thing you can see in night-time satellite images of North Korea.

Kijong-dong was built to demonstrate to the citizens of South Korea that their northern neighbours are having a wonderful time, just like them. Maybe even better. However, it only takes a pair of binoculars to nail the lie. It's quite obvious that nobody lives there if you look hard enough. No movement other than the flashing lights - no people, no cars, nothing.

Respect for the fallen before kick off.
Corinthian FC (2) 3 v 2 (1) Alresford Town FC
Buildbase FA Vase Second Round
Saturday 12th November 2016
Attendance: 52
Admission: £7
Programme: £1
Colours: Celtic v All yellow
National Grid reference: TQ5967

A prefab stand, which is a common enough sight - but this one is resting on a flat bed from a hay wagon to give it some elevation.
The North Korean city reminded me of all the liars and fantasists I've met over the years, albeit on a much larger scale. The bragging mate who's had all the girls (although you've never seen him ever talk to a woman, let alone "score"); that other bloke you talk to occasionally in your local who's been to every landmark gig since punk broke, despite the fact he always seems to be sat in the same seat in the same pub every single night (he let slip he'd just celebrated his 50th birthday the last time you saw him, which meant he would have been 10 when he saw the Pistols play at the 100 Club...).

Your hardnut football mate who tells you preposterous tales about his time in the 657 Crew in the 80s. You know he can't have been ambushed in the back streets of Mansfield by their Shady Express firm, because Pompey never played Mansfield in the 80s, but he'll still insist he was there. And you know that nothing went down at QPR the day that Ian Baird scored his only goal for the club (a tap in from a yard out), because you were there, but he'll still brag about taking the home end virtually single-handed.

Corinthian's first goal. The changing rooms with flats above in the background.
There's the individual fantasists, and then there are the corporate and political fantasists. We'll leave recent elections aside here and concentrate on Sky's constant Premiership hype. Have you ever been to a match at which the Sky cameras were present? Did you watch the bombastic build-up to the game before you set off? Did you watch the game again on catch-up later to see the meagre highlights? Then you'll know the disconnect between the hype and the reality of the best league in the world. It's all just like your bragging mates, but bigger, louder and even more unbelievable.

Corinthian Sports Club are the antithesis of all this nonsense. They're the reformed continuation of one of the original exclusive gentlemen's amateur football clubs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Based at Gay Dawn Farm between the villages of Fawkham and Longfield in Kent, their story is expertly told by David Bauckham in his superb football blog Exposure. I highly recommend reading this piece, it's a real treat. And David is a great photographer, so there are many more ground photos on Exposure to complement the pictures that I took on Saturday.

Highlights from David's story include the fact that the club only played friendlies during the first thirteen years of its existence, including against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City; the club have remained strictly amateur from their formation in 1972 until the present day; and that people live in flats above the dressing rooms - players are reminded to be quiet and respectful to the neighbours.

One of the four bus shelters.
My journey to Kent from Southampton was stressful, driving along the monochrome motorways of southern England. Grey skies, grey tarmac, grey cars splashing grey spray on my windscreen. Slowly does it. Would the match be postponed? No news on Twitter before I left, so I stopped at Liphook to check. No signal. Stop again 15 minutes later after Guildford - game on! Off of the M25, past Brands Hatch, turn left...and we were suddenly in a glittering golden tunnel, driving along the country lane towards Gay Dawn Farm, glorious autumn foliage overhanging our route.

Having parked the car, a ginger farm cat sauntered towards me. Could I stroke her? "No, I'm a farm cat, nobody touches me!"

Corinthian's football ground is part of a wider sporting complex. There's another full-size football pitch, a golf course, an artificial five-a-side pitch, and a kindergarten, amongst other facilities.

As you enter the ground, to your left is the pavilion containing the dressing rooms and a small tea bar. There are three rows of blue plastic seating beneath a balcony, presumably used by the residents of the flats above. Between the entrance and the pavilion is a row of sunflowers, now starting to look a little sorry for themselves in the November drizzle.

By the entrance is a brick and wood sheltered stand with a corrugated plastic roof containing two rows of numbered white seats which must have been shipped in from a professional club, the numbers on the backs randomly placed. There was the number 10 - next to it was 66 (and all that). I conversed with a fellow who visits Corinthian when Ebbsfleet are away - we wondered if the seats had come from Spurs.

There is a toilet block in a container at this end, above which is an electronic scoreboard, which worked in the first half, but went on the blink in the second.

Along the right-hand side are four plastic bus shelters and a prefabricated seated stand which has been placed on the back of an old truck, giving it some welcome elevation. The far end is hard standing, but with overhanging trees giving some shelter from the light rain which fell throughout the match. The remaining side contains plastic dugouts and a latticed TV tower, but is out of bounds for spectators. The whole ground has a rural feel (Gay Dawn Farm is a working farm - some of the countryside smells wafting around the pavilion proving it!).

Chasing a loose ball during first half injury time.
Alresford Town travelled to Kent having knocked out Chippenham Park, Cowes Sports and Lingfield in the previous three rounds. Corinthian had seen off Sevenoaks Town and Alton, having had a bye in the first qualifying round. The two teams looked evenly matched on paper, and so it proved on the day, as either club could have made a case for victory.

Corinthian took the lead with their first dangerous attack after ten minutes. Michael Hagan chipped the ball over advancing keeper Wayne Shaw, Robert Flooks hooked the ball off the line, but it fell straight to Conor Johnson, six yards out on the left, who knocked the ball back in, Flooks helpless this time as he tried to regain his balance in vain.

Alresford were the better team, but they fell two behind eight minutes later from Corinthian's second serious attack. Again, Johnson was involved, nipping in behind the right-back to shoot low and hard across the goal. Shaw saved, but the ball fell in to the path of a Corinthian player, Luke Tanner, who was able to slot the ball in to an empty net from close range, in a similar manner to the first goal.

Despite being two down so early, Alresford kept pressing, Chris Mason having a screamer from 25 yards headed off the line before he slid home Town's first from the penalty spot after 22 minutes. Simon Everrett was upended as he tried to trick his way past a Corinthian defender and Mason was cool-headed as he beat keeper Hagan low down to his right.

Town continued to have the better chances but couldn't force an equaliser before half-time.

Sunflowers beginning to droop a bit now it's November. This corner led to Alresford's second goal.
Discussing the match at half-time with my new friend from Ebbsfleet, we both agreed that there would be more goals in the second half, and that Alresford would definitely score at least one of them. I argued that they would go on and win, but he wasn't so sure, thinking that there would be extra-time and possibly a replay to settle the tie.

There was no need for extra-time in the end, as Corinthian played much better after the break. They looked more likely to extend their lead as Shaw was forced to work a lot harder to keep his team in the game, making several decent saves. However, Alresford did get their equaliser, as we'd predicted, when Aaron Blaxall was on hand to chip the ball in from three yards when it fell to him after a corner wasn't cleared properly after 62 minutes.

Mason missed a great chance soon after the goal, but the rhythm of the game was generally with Corinthian, especially after they brought on 17-year-old winger Louis Clarke, who was a constant menace to Alresford's overworked full-backs. It was he that sped past Tom Richards after 73 minutes to fire in a low cross for the unmarked Tanner to volley in from close range for the eventual winner.

Sam Burt should have equalised with a few minutes remaining, but he shot straight at a grateful Hagan. The amateur club from the Southern Counties East League had done just enough to earn themselves a place in the last 64. Alresford will be kicking themselves, as they could and probably should have earnt at least a replay.

On my way out, I saw the aloof farm cat again. She ignored me, instead creeping through a gap in the hedge near the elevated stand. As the floodlights went out, no doubt the countryside creatures of the night were taking over the farm's football ground. Tonight, the farm cat will feast upon football ground mice.

Thank you to the reporter from the excellent Kentish Football website, without whom I would have struggled to fill in some of the names of the players involved in the action on Saturday. His lengthy report is here.

There are another 30+ photos from Corinthian on the HAH Facebook page here.

The third area of covered seating at Corinthian.
Other than Alresford, here are the other local results from the FA Vase this weekend:

Croydon 2-1 Andover Town
Eight man Moneyfields 0-4 Thatcham Town
Portland United 1-2 Blackfield & Langley
Shaftesbury 1-3 Team Solent
Hartley Wintney v Melksham Town was postponed, but the away side won the rearranged match yesterday evening by 2 goals to 1.

Newport (IW) lost away to Buckland Athletic, whilst Bemerton Heath Harlequins beat Cullompton Rangers in a replay on Tuesday evening, which means that only three Wessex League clubs are  through to the last 64.

The draw for the Third Round was made on Monday. The two remaining Hampshire clubs were paired with opposition from the south-west:

Exmouth Town v Blackfield & Langley
Team Solent v Bodmin Town

A trip to Exmouth on December 3rd is very tempting. We'll see what the weather's like!

The next HAH will be from a Hampshire Premier League ground on November 26th.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Locks Heath v Paulsgrove

Locks Heath FC.
I was away doing a work-related course last week. It was hard going. Me and my colleague were mixed in with a group of very focussed MSc students, who were used to the academic life. Me, I hadn't done anything as brain-scorchingly difficult as this since I left school, many moons ago.

Highlights of the week? Not many. I managed to persuade my work pal to go and watch a match on Tuesday evening - Kempston Rovers v Chipstead in an FA Trophy replay on the west side of Bedford. It was okay, but at 1-0 going in to the final minute, I was willing Chipstead not to equalise and force extra-time. They duly hit the post and then Kempston broke upfield to settle the match with a second goal.

There was a trip to the cinema, a beer or two, but little else to do in the cultural ghost town of Bedford. Breakfast time was a highlight when I could mix Corn Flakes with Coco Pops and add a few tinned grapefruit slices, washed down with a small orange juice for my "continental breakfast". It was a relief when Friday came around and we'd seemingly finished our mini-course earlier than advertised at 2pm. Brilliant! Time to escape! Let's turn off the computer, pack our bags and say our goodbyes.

Then our tutor produced an exam paper...

The sun still shines as the two teams emerge from the dressing rooms.
Locks Heath FC (0) 0 v 3 (1) Paulsgrove FC
Saturday October 15th 2016
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier League Cup 2nd Round
Attendance: 15-ish
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: Red & black / black / black v All dark blue
National Grid reference: SU5205

Well, that's the last we'll see of any blue sky this Saturday. Wan light from now on.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. An exam paper! You mean, I had to remember all that algebra, all those difficult to understand concepts, and regurgitate them on to paper? Wasn't it enough that I'd managed to stay awake during all those dry, lengthy tutorials? Don't I get a certificate for not snoring whilst teacher was speaking?

Apparently not.

An hour of mental agony ensued. I remembered all those times when it really mattered at the end of the school year, when my mind would go blank as soon as I was presented with a paper full of questions. Ask me to name 50 Football League teams in 60 seconds in a pub with no pressure attached, and I can do it - do the same thing on a paper in a pressure situation, and I'll be stuck after 20.

Feeling punch drunk when the hour was up, I did surprisingly okay - 29 out of 50 - probably a C or a D, so I've not really changed since school, when I would merrily write about the Vietnam War for 40 minutes before realising that I should have written about the Korean situation instead. Rip it up and start again.

Paulsgrove attacking the Leafy End.
So what if I went to university now, perhaps to study Sports Journalism for three years? What would one of my match reports look like if written to a deadline? I'd probably have to write in a certain style and stop after a certain number of words. There's obviously a skill in writing a succinct match report to a deadline. Could I do it?

I decided to give it a go this morning. I gave myself 20 minutes to knock out a 300 word report on Saturday's Hampshire League Cup match between Locks Heath and Paulsgrove. The resulting piece of "journalism" follows in bold with comments on my own work in square brackets.

Midfield action.

Three-star Paulsgrove came out on top at a rain-lashed Locks Heath Rec yesterday in a one-sided league cup tie. On paper, these two sides looked well matched, both ensconced in mid-table, but despite there being only one goal in it for the majority of the match, there was never any real doubt about who was going to win this one.

[Three-star? Oh dear, this type of phrase is only used when a team scores five - they'd be five-star Paulsgrove - much more impressive! Three stars makes them look a bit average. And why did I use the word "ensconced"? That's not a football word! "Marooned" in mid-table, perhaps, but not ensconced! There's an imaginary dictionary of football words that journalists use, and ensconced is definitely not in it!]

As the match got under way, it was hard to tell the two teams apart, with Locks Heath wearing red on the front, but with black backs, making it look as though they were playing in all black whenever their players were facing the other way. Paulsgrove turned up in all dark blue. I wondered if they might be asked to change in to training bibs by the ref, but the players seemed happy with the situation and carried on as they were.

[The match kicked off late because there were no corner flags - that might have been a more interesting titbit than the colour clash. I should have cut this. I may have lost a few marks in my imaginary journalism exam here.]

Corner for Locks Heath.
Paulsgrove took the lead after a sustained spell of early pressure paid off when Locks Heath’s keeper unluckily punched a flighted corner ball in to his own net after 13 minutes. He was called in to action again shortly afterwards, making a fine reaction save to push a point-blank shot from Paulsgrove’s number 9 on to the post.

[This is better, although I should have asked for a teamsheet so that I could have named the goalkeeper and Paulsgrove's number 9. Then again, perhaps Locks Heath's custodian would prefer to remain anonymous?]

The match had kicked off in sunshine, but rain clouds soon moved in from the south-west, obscuring the view of the Isle of Wight, which had been clearly visible from the far side of the pitch. Spectators huddled together beneath trees as the rain became heavier and heavier and the players became wetter and wetter as the match progressed.

[Hmmm, this is a bit flowery for a match report. I can get away with this on a blog as a bit of background colour, but this would have been edited out in a newspaper before publication. I'd used the words "rain-lashed" in the first sentence, which would be good enough. People without an emotional attachment to the players (team-mates, friends, relations and club officials) all disappeared when the rain became unbearable]

Rainy day in Hampshire.
It took until the 80th minute for Paulsgrove to extend their lead, debutant Craig Ralph shimmying past a pair of Locks Heath defenders on the left side of the box before unleashing a powerful shot which nestled in the far corner.

[I missed out an hour of the match here, as if nothing else happened in this period. There were shots, saves and yellow cards during the missing sixty minutes. I should have noted some of these down and reported them. However, that last paragraph is passable, with plenty of "football words" (shimmying, unleashing and nestled are all good). That's got to be worth an "A" in my imaginary journalism exam]

As Locks Heath pushed forward looking for a consolation goal, they were caught again on the break, Jim Hird finishing a slick passing move by sliding the ball in from six yards for a thoroughly deserved 3-0 victory. New manager Rich Bessey will be well pleased with his start at the club, winning two and drawing one of his first three games, scoring ten and conceding only one in the process. Paulsgrove will be a hard team to beat this season.

[Wow, I finished on a high here! Plenty of "football words" and a mention of the manager's excellent start - it looks as if I'd done some homework! I probably should have talked more about Locks Heath - the whole report seems a little biased towards Paulsgrove, but then they were the better team on the day]

Non-league dog watches on.
What do you think? I suspect I'd have failed my journalism exam with this piece - I did it in 20 minutes, but was 82 words over the limit, and I wandered off the path a little bit in to my usual world of whimsy. At least I didn't mention how many non-league dogs were passing by during the match (several).

I normally give a ground description for anybody that's not previously visited a place that I write about, but on this occasion, I'll let the pictures describe Locks Heath Rec. There will be another 40 or so photos on the HAH Facebook page to accompany this post.

It's been a pleasure visiting Clanfield and Locks Heath in the last two weeks. I'll feature more Hampshire League clubs throughout the season. In the meantime, I'll be back with another game on either the 5th or 12th November - I haven't decided where yet - it depends on the FA Vase draw and/or the as yet unpublished fixtures for the Hampshire League.

Upwards and onwards.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Clanfield v QK Southampton

The welcome sign at Peel Park, home of Clanfield FC.
I'm in a rush. There's no time. Places to go, people to see...

It's a short one this week. Just a ground description and a perfunctory match report. I hope you don't mind too much.

No seats at Clanfield. Unless you bring your own bicycle saddles.
Clanfield FC (1) 3 v 2 (0) QK Southampton FC
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Saturday 8th October 2016
Attendance: Varied throughout the match as dads and lads came and went - generally around 15-20
Admission: None
Programme: None
Colours: Blue and black stripes / black / black v Yellow / black / yellow
National Grid reference: SU7016

QK Southampton on the ball.
I promised I'd visit a few Hampshire Premier Football League grounds this season, and this looked like the most interesting game in the league this week, as second-placed Clanfield entertained fifth-placed QK Southampton.

Clanfield is a village at the furthest point of the Portsmouth / Havant conurbation, protruding finger-like in to the South Downs National Park, which gives it a very rural feel. On three sides of the ground, there are hills visible - the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn just beginning to mix with the different shades of agricultural green and brown to make the backdrop to this game a veritable riot of colour.

To the east, Chalton Windmill looks down on proceedings with a slightly saddened air. A windmill without sails is like a daddy long legs without any legs - it's just wrong. The club feature the windmill on their badge, but with sails, making it look much more chipper.

A close shave for QK.
Clanfield's ground is basic, as you'd expect at the 11th tier of English football. Set on the local recreation ground, the pitch slopes in every direction all at once, but generally downwards from the entrance towards the far end.

There is a small car park provided for users of the recreation ground, which was almost full even with less than twenty people watching the game. Next to the car park is a pavilion which houses the changing rooms and a small room with a tea hatch (half-time tea and a Mars Bar at only £1 was my only expense of the day). There are tables in this room, one of which had a bowl of Frazzles placed upon it at the end of the match for hospitality purposes. I was so tempted to take one on my way out, but I kept my discipline and left them all alone.

The local kids watch the match from their elevated half-pipes.
The pitch has a rail along the right-hand side, with a tarmacced path running parallel to it which joins the entrance with a skateboard park at the far end. The local kids were enjoying their Saturday afternoon, blasting out Nirvana whilst the match was going on, like an errant tannoy announcer who's forgotten to turn off the half-time musical entertainment. Here we are now, entertain us!

The top end and the left-hand side are roped off, with the far end open. Beyond the rope on the left is another pitch, with a playground beyond that. No dogs are allowed on the recreation ground, so no photos of contented pooches this week.

Chalton Windmill up on Windmill Down. It's lost its sails.
I missed photographing the first goal, as I wasn't ready (lucky I don't get paid for this...). Ashley Fisher ran through on goal and slotted the ball home from 18 yards after only two minutes. At this early stage, it looked like it could be a tough afternoon for the visitors from the Millbrook area of Southampton, but they weren't to be overwhelmed. Indeed, they were arguably the better side for the rest of the first half. More possession, but with little penetration, leaving the home keeper with little to do.

The arty pic.
In the second half, there was little to choose between the two teams as the entertainment level went up a notch. QK got their equaliser after 50 minutes, Joe Griggs firing home after the ball wasn't cleared properly from a corner. They extended their lead 15 minutes later, George Callard latching on to a sloppy back pass to race clear and whack the ball beyond goalkeeper Tim Jackson's reach.

Then it started raining. And raining. I retired to the pavilion, where I stood beneath the overhanging eaves. Other, more hardy souls, put their umbrellas up and carried on watching in the downpour.

Kicking downhill in the teeming rain, Clanfield had their chances, but with ten minutes to go, it looked like QK were going to hang on to record a surprise victory. However, it wasn't to be, Mike Newman equalising for the home side. A win for Clanfield would put them top if leaders Hayling United faltered, so they kept looking for another goal.

I'd been joined under the eaves by some of the skatepark kids, one of whom asked his friend what was the best atmosphere he'd ever experienced at a Clanfield match. He replied that it was the game against United Services, to which the first boy agreed. It was as he spoke that the home side won the game, Lucas Lothian smashing in the 92nd minute heartbreaker for QK.

With no time left for QK to make a comeback, it was time to celebrate for the villagers. Later on, they found out that Hayling had only drawn, so Lothian's last minute strike had indeed put Clanfield on top of the league.

Time to tidy away the corner flags. Until next week.
I shall visit another club from the same league next Saturday. If the match is half as entertaining as this one, it will be a happy day.

There will be another 40 or so photos on the HAH Facebook page shortly.

Enjoy your next match, wherever that may be.