Tuesday, 2 February 2016

AFC Totton v Evesham United

The impressive main stand at AFC Totton, as viewed from the road outside the complex.
Last summer, we went on a family camping trip to Suffolk. It was a nice campsite, situated on a smallholding on the edge of a village, run by a pair of hippified City dropouts. On one side of our tent, we were able to listen to a gaggle of turkeys gobbling and gibbering to each other all day long. Behind us, there was a field full of goats. Opposite them, three shy alpacas roamed around their spacious enclosure, keeping close to one another at all times, accompanied by a team of chickens, who were bossily kept in check by a huge cockerel, his leathery red wattle wobbling violently whenever he sensed danger.

Various aloof farm cats would come and visit us and make our tent their temporary home, occasionally deigning to let us stroke them. There were friendly dogs as well, always ready for a tail-wagging fuss. Like I said, a nice place to spend a few days (if you like that sort of thing).

In the evenings, as the sun went down, we would wander along the footpath which leads past the village churchyard (alive with bats), and down to the pub. After a couple of pints of Wherryman (straight from the barrel), we were ready for a pub game.

Parade of honour for Mike Gosney, breaking the record for first team appearances at AFC Totton.
AFC Totton (1) 2 v 2 (1) Evesham United FC
Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South & West
Saturday 30th January 2016
Attendance: 325
Admission: £9
Programme: £2
Colours: All blue v Red and white stripes / black / black
National Grid reference: SU3415

Evesham United fans watch from the far terrace.
We'd start off with a few games of dominoes. My family tell me this is a game of luck, however, I won far more than I lost, so I had to disagree with them. After the dominoes, it was time to get our 50p's out and for me and my son to take our place at the bar billiards table.

Now, bar billiards is a game I used to play with friends in Emsworth. This was a long time ago though, so I struggled to remember all the rules. Luckily, help was at hand, as one of the locals was only too happy to give us the lowdown.

In case you're unaware, bar billiards is played on a sloping green-baized table similar in size to a pool table with ball-shaped holes cut in to the cloth instead of the corners and sides. Placed at various points on the cloth are mushroom-shaped skittles. You win points when one ball hits another and then one or more balls drop down the holes. The holes are worth a differing amount of points according to their difficulty.

The rules vary from county to county, so our new friend related to us the Suffolk Rules. In Suffolk Rules, if you knock over a white skittle, you lose all your points for that go; if you knock over the black skittle, you lose ALL YOUR POINTS for the entire game up to that point. I've put this in capitals because he told us this with some relish. If you can imagine trying to play this game in a strange pub, not really knowing what you're doing, and this fellow was watching you like an eagle, just waiting for you to knock over the black skittle, so that he could announce to the whole pub (very loudly in his country burr) that you've LOST ALL YOUR POINTS! Not sure about the rest of the pub, but he found it all very entertaining.

I think you had to be there...

The second seated area at AFC Totton.
I was reminded of the old boy in the pub on Saturday. I was visiting AFC Totton for the second in HAH's "New Ground Trilogy", following on from Hythe & Dibden at Clayfields last week. Totton's Testwood Stadium was opened in February 2011, a month after I started writing Hopping Around Hampshire, and this is the first time I've featured it.

It was a special day, as before kick-off, Mike Gosney was presented with a silver plate and a bottle of champers by Lawrie McMenemy. Mike was going to be playing in his 387th game for the club, breaking the appearance record previously held by Mark Osman. He'd played in the first competitive match at the new Wembley in 2007, when Totton lost to Truro City in front of the largest-ever FA Vase final crowd - he's the only player still at the club from that day. He had a short time at Gosport Borough a couple of years ago, otherwise he's been loyal to Totton, scoring 174 goals mostly from the wing. I've seen him many times and always been impressed.

Manager Steve Hollick had said beforehand that they wanted to win this one for Gos, but it was going to be a tough game: visitors Evesham United had beaten The Stags 6-0 at their place in November.

Mike Gosney chats with some fans during a break in play.
It was 11th versus 8th. Evesham have arguably underperformed this season, dropping down from last season's runners-up spot. Perhaps they've found it hard to recover from their play-off semi-final defeat against Larkhall Athletic? On the other hand, Totton seem to be on their way back after a couple of difficult seasons when they could have gone out of business with large debts. They'd only been beaten once in their last seven games.

It was the away team who started stronger, taking the lead after 13 minutes, Adam Mann heading in a precise cross from six yards. At this stage, Evesham had THREE POINTS.

Five minutes later, they were down to ONE POINT as Totton equalised. Nick Watts picked the ball up in his stride from a long throw by keeper Steve Mowthorpe. He ran half the length of the pitch leaving his pursuers behind like a cheetah being chased by [insert slower animals here]. As he approached the byline, he zipped over a cross for Nathaniel Sherborne to power in with his head at the back post for 1-1.

The game was quite even up until half-time, both sides having further chances to score.

The ref enjoys the celebrations following AFC Totton's second goal.
It was the next goal which made me chuckle inside, as I thought about the old boy in Suffolk. I could just imagine him standing behind the goal at the far end, letting the Evesham defence know (in no uncertain terms) that YOU'VE LOST ALL YOUR POINTS. It was a good goal too - the best of the match - as Sherborne pinged a superb pass from under the shadow of the stand for Watts to once again take in his stride. This time, he placed the ball accurately in to the far corner beyond the outstretched fingers of the Evesham keeper.

As every bar billiards player knows, you can lose all your points during the game, but there's always time to retrieve some of them. And so it proved, as Evesham equalised a few minutes later. Mann was again sniffing around the six-yard line as a cross came in. This time, he shot low and hard. Mowthorpe appeared to make a decent save, but the twenty or so away fans behind the goal yelled for a goal as they believed the ball had crossed the line. The referee agreed and it was 2-2.

There is a match highlights video here. The goal/not-a-goal controversy is inconclusive. See what you think...

One last big effort towards the end of the game with the scores at level pegging.
As I mentioned previously, I've not featured a match from this stadium before - so what's it like? Well, Groundtastic magazine liked it so much that they gave it their Non-League Ground Of The Year award in 2011 (if you want to read the article, you will find it in issue 65 (Summer 2011)).

They liked the main stand, describing it as "tall and bold". It's certainly the main focal point. It can be seen clearly from the road which passes the ground. Every time I drive past it, I have to turn my head and admire it. There's plenty of legroom and the steepness - or rake - of the stand means that there's little chance of sitting behind a tall person and not being able to see anything.

Groundtastic also liked the fact that they'd recycled their old stand, bringing it from the old ground, 1.3 miles away at Testwood Park (now 84 houses and flats called The Mallards - prices up to £386,000 if you're interested in moving there). The old stand is long and shallow, and similarly to a lot of other grounds, the view of the pitch is obscured by railings if you sit in the front two rows of blue bench seats. When the new ground was built by Linden Homes (who bought AFC Totton's and Totton & Eling's former grounds for housing - 106 addresses now at T&E's Southern Gardens at an average of £200,000 each), I think they should have placed this stand on at least one step of concrete - too late now, unfortunately.

The Mallards, Totton. Formerly a football ground.
The best thing about the ground for me is the extensive terracing on all four sides, of all different shapes and sizes - rare in Hampshire. If I was a regular here, I'm sure I'd have "my own patch". A slight criticism of this terracing from Groundtastic was that the low stand obscures a small corner of the pitch from one of the quirky bits of terrace, but I stood there for a bit and it didn't bother me - the portion of missing pitch is minuscule.

Aside from this minor criticism, Groundtastic also commented on the claustrophobic narrowness of the walkways between the pitch railings and the terrace railings, which was fair enough - it's all a bit "After you, Claude" when meeting someone coming in the opposite direction.

An observation for future development would be the possible provision of a covered and elevated area for wheelchair and mobility scooter users. There is potentially space for this between the old stand and the terrace at the entrance end. If a wheelchair user came to watch a match at Testwood, there is plenty of flat standing around the pitch perimeter, but as with the front benches in the old stand, the railings obscure the view without some sort of elevation.

But do I like this ground? Yes, I do. It's not perfect, but it's way better than it could have been - the main stand being particularly well designed. Oh, and I loved the club shop and the spacious bar and the clean toilets...

I'll be back.

One of the stewards watches on as Totton attack the far end.
As an addendum, according to my statistics, AFC Totton have yet to be beaten when I've covered them, although this was the first time they've failed to win.

More reports from this entertaining game can be found here and here.

I shall put up some more photos from the match on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page shortly.

The next report should be in two weeks from a Wessex League stadium. The " New Ground Trilogy" Part 3. This one should be safe from possible weather-related postponements.

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