Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Bournemouth FC v Fareham Town

The view from inside the clubhouse at Bournemouth Poppies. Is it my imagination, or was there an axolotl swimming in my cider? Can you see it? No? Just me then...
"Greetings! You probably don't know me, and I'm not sure if I know you. There's no point in looking for me, because I'm not here - not in body, anyway. I'd like to tell you a story or two about my life, but first, I need to find a spirit host.

I can communicate by typing on a keyboard, but it takes me many hours to write even a few simple words, one keystroke at a time, one painful button press every few minutes. So much energy for one who has so little to spare. The better way for me to talk to you is to channel my thoughts through a host, and I believe I found one on Saturday.

Not everyone can host a spirit such as myself - they have to be able to hear voices that no-one else can hear, and then to be able to translate those voices. The 1960s pop music producer Joe Meek used to believe that a cat's miaow was the sound of the dead trying to communicate with the living. He spent many hours in graveyards taping stray cats' voices so that he could later play them back and attempt to translate them. He wasn't far wrong, spirit voices do sound a lot like a cat's miaow, just a little higher-pitched and ever-so slightly more "human", more like the wind whistling and moaning through an alleyway.

Only special people can both hear a spirit voice and be able to understand it, and as I said, I found the perfect host on Saturday."

A pre-match stretch and scratch for the Bournemouth players.
Bournemouth FC (0) 1 v 0 (0) Fareham Town FC
Saturday 19th March 2016
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 33
Admission: £6
Programme: £1 (invariably voted the league's Programme Of The Year - lots and lots of stats)
Colours: All red v All blue
National Grid reference: SZ0894

The 45 year old stand at Bournemouth Poppies.
"My host was sitting on the beautifully varnished wooden bench seat number 192 at the back of Bournemouth Poppies' stand. He was fiddling with something - I suspect it was a camera, but a far more advanced type than the daguerrotypes that I knew of in my lifetime. As he was temporarily distracted, I entered his brain through his left nostril. I understand that us spirits have a sweet, coconutty perfume, but my host was just getting over a cold and couldn't smell me - if he had, he would probably have thought that someone nearby was eating a Nice biscuit.

I was lucky. I started talking to my host in my high-pitched whine, and he could immediately understand me. This would be the place to stay for the afternoon. I could use his eyes to see, his ears to hear, his nose to sniff the cold grey air - all his senses were mine for a few hours.

I was able to look around with near-perfect vision. As a spirit, my eyesight is poor - everything is monochrome and grainy, like looking through a frosted bathroom window on a miserable winter's day. I looked to my host's left and right through his eyes, and I could see the six rows of wooden benches in the stand, white lines delineating individual seats and hand-painted numbers indicating that there must be room for more than 200 spectators in there."

And another stretch!
"I played for Bournemouth Rovers in their very first match in 1875. We were the first football club in Bournemouth, founded many years before the more famous AFC Bournemouth. We played at Dean Park, close to where the modern Premiership club now play. There was no such thing as a league in those days. Instead, we had to play friendlies, often against other teams within our own club as there were so few other clubs to challenge.

Before we started a game, we had to decide which rules we were going to play - whether that be the rules of association football or rugby football. It could vary from week to week, according to the preferences of the captains. I always voted for the association game, as the 15 man rules weren't as rigid as they are nowadays, which led to many serious injuries and even deaths. The association game still allowed hacking, where the opposition could kick your shins at will to stop a dribble, but at least I could place a good thick copy of The Times down my stockings to relieve the pain (and, truth be told, I could hack the opposition harder than they ever could me).

Our big rivals in the early years were Fordingbridge Turks (who still exist and are the oldest club in Hampshire). I particularly remember one match in 1876 when the Turks came to Dean Park. We hired an Italian band for the day to entertain the crowd. We also put on a splendid spread of cold meats which we washed down with glasses of mineral water and a cask of beer. It took us two years to pay off the cost of our generosity, but we were gentlemen, so it was worth every penny."

The goal posts are covered in colourful tape at Bournemouth FC.
"We never had a stand like the Poppies have now. Our home was a roped off section of the cricket pitch. We would change in the local hostelry. I was able to see the home team's modern dressing rooms from outside on Saturday, and they have hot showers now, which was unheard of in my day. Via my host, I then saw the spread laid on for the visitors in the clubhouse next to the stand. Laid out on a table beneath the dartboard was a tasty selection of rolls. We weren't keen on bread in my day, as the local bakers used to add "extras" such as chalk to their flour to cut costs and make the ingredients go a little further. Not tasty. Looking at the post-match spread, I wished I could eat once more, but that's beyond me now.

My host took me for a walk around the pitch before the players came out. There's a concrete path all the way around the pitch, only interrupted by a pair of sturdy dugouts on the far side, painted in rose pink. The ground is overlooked by detached houses and bungalows on three sides, with the fourth (entrance side), having a dual carriageway on the other side of a hedge - which was noisy. In my day, of course, there were no motorised vehicles.

My host had arrived in Bournemouth by train. I understand that the train station is two miles from the Poppies ground, and that it took him 35-40 minutes to walk between the two destinations. It appears that these days, trains are powered by electricity or diesel and no longer have a member of the railway company walk in front of them waving a red flag to warn oncoming traffic of the approaching danger."

Fareham Town on the attack.
"The players look remarkably different from myself in 1876. Where we used to dress in baggy green and white shirts, green knickerbockers, stockings and caps, today's fellows dress in more comfortable attire - the home team in all red, the opposition from Fareham in all blue. My team all used to sport splendid walrus moustaches, which now appear to be out of fashion. My host tells me that there are people known as "hipsters" and "steampunks" who currently look like me. However, there was sadly no sign of any of these "steampunks" in the vicinity on Saturday.

As my host looked upwards, I was able to see lightbulbs on poles dotted around the ground. This reminded me of the time that my old club took part in the first ever floodlit football match in Hampshire, in November 1878. We challenged a team of local residents to a match, which drew a large crowd to Dean Park. We won 5-1, but the weather was miserable and the lights were spasmodic and just a little dull.

It looks like electric light shows are commonplace these days, but of course, it was never dark enough for the lights to be needed last weekend."

Poppies manager Ken Vaughan takes the substitute number boards back to the changing rooms. Those Sainsbury's bags for life are just the right size.
"We changed our colours to poppy red in 1876, which is what the club have played in ever since. In 1899, after I'd retired from the sport, we merged with Bournemouth Arabs to become Bournemouth FC. We've been playing in the Hampshire League, and then from its foundation in the mid-1980s, the Wessex League, ever since. Our neighbours, The Cherries, long since overtook us as the biggest club in Bournemouth. They may be bigger, but we are older. I shall forever be a Poppy.

My old club won on Saturday. The visitors started strongly, missing a string of chances, including one long-range shot which hit the bar, but my team held out well to go in at half-time on level terms.

We won the game with a goal which would not have been possible in my day. You see, the balls we played with were so heavy, that a shot from 25 yards would not have carried all the way to the goal-line. It would have been easily intercepted by the goal-tender or one of the backs. We had to dribble and pass the ball and virtually walk it in to the goal, much like your Woolwich Arsenal today. However, the balls are much lighter nowadays, and Ami Rosario was able to shoot from distance in to the net for the winning goal.

Of course, we never had nets in my day, and the crossbar was only introduced in 1875 - before then, the umpire had to decide if the ball had crossed the line over or under a tape which we would string between the posts, which caused no end of arguments.

The match ended with a little controversy, as Fawzi Saadi was sent to the dressing rooms for what used to be called "a spot of hooting and hissing" back in the nineteenth century, but what my host tells me is now called "an off-the-ball incident". I think I prefer the old phraseology."

Steam from the shower vent post-match. Or is it...can it be...someone we know?
"It was most splendid to be back again. I never played at Victoria Park, as the club moved there many years after my death, but I felt at home amongst fellow enthusiasts, however few of us there were on Saturday.

My host tells me that my story will not be illustrated with lithographic prints, but with what he calls "photos", which is a shame, as I used to be quite handy with the old lithograph. I created a magnificent print of my old friend William Pickford, who was at Bournemouth Rovers with me and who went on to found the Hampshire Football Association and then write the first history of football in the county in 1937. I presented the print to him on the occasion of the Association's silver jubilee. I still see him from time to time, entering a spirit host in order to watch the Poppies play.

I understand that a match report can be found here. Apparently, you have to "click" on the underlined word and the match report will appear. The modern world really is an amazing place. My host also informed me that there will be extra "photos" to view on something called the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page. He's completely lost me now.

I also have to tell you that he will be back in two weeks, featuring a game from the only Wessex League ground that he's yet to visit.

As for me, I shall be looking for a new host at the next Bournemouth FC game. I hope I find one.

Farewell my friends."

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