Monday, 14 March 2016

Pewsey Vale v United Services Portsmouth

Pewsey Vale's ground, overlooked by an old schoolhouse.
I love this time of year, don't you? Everything comes alive after the dead times of winter. After months of miserable weather - the never-ending damp, grey workday mornings and grim, dark evenings, where the only light you ever see is a motorway junction soda lamp through a windscreen covered in salty filth - all of a sudden, you wake up for work and it's light outside. You open the front door for a pre-breakfast stroll and there's a woodpecker drumming in the park, a greenfinch trilling from a tree top, a gaggle of puppies chasing each other through the crocus patch by the playground.

It's the time of year when nature knows that anything can happen.

And you know that it's the end of all the football postponements - those middle-season months of uncertainty, when you look at Saturday's fixtures, choose your game to go to, and then the rain falls all week and you're at the mercy of the referee, deciding whether a boggy pitch is a safe pitch - and invariably, he decides it isn't and you're stuck at home, or you go somewhere less interesting instead.

And this becomes a habit after a while, all this "doing something else" on a Saturday, and some of us drift away as these new hobbies become more reliable than the football.

But it's okay, you can come back now. It's warm, the sun is shining, you can go out without thermal undies and enjoy the end of the season.

The clubhouse/changing rooms and covered seating area at Pewsey Vale.
Pewsey Vale FC (0) 1 v 3 (1) United Services Portsmouth FC
Saturday 12th March 2016
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: Varied throughout as people came and went, but averaged out at around 15-20
Admission: £5
Programme: 50p
Colours: White / navy / navy v Red and blue stripes / red / red
National Grid reference: SU1659

Watching on intently from the dugouts.
I'm now completing the Wessex League for HAH. I had three of the 38 grounds left to visit before Saturday - Pewsey Vale, Bournemouth Poppies and AFC Stoneham. I'd been to Pewsey before and wrote about it here, but I'd yet to see a match being played on the pitch - I'd spent an hour driving to the village in January, I'd had a nice cup of tea in the clubhouse, I'd seen Pewsey and Ringwood players warming up, I'd seen the referee consult with his assistants, I'd seen the club volunteers pick up the corner flags and store them away, I'd seen everyone present shake their heads in disbelief at the soft postponement, then I'd turned around and driven for an hour back home again...

...and Pewsey Vale is a long way, relatively speaking, from the heartland of the Wessex League, which is generally based around Solent City and Bournemouth. United Services had a 130 mile round trip for the game on Saturday, which, other than Portland United, is the furthest they will travel this season.

Of course, it's the same for Pewsey, who have one or two local rivalries across the misty, militarised Mordor of Salisbury Plain with Amesbury and Laverstock, otherwise they have to travel a fair distance for a lot of their away matches. That's the trouble with being right on the edge of the league footprint - of course, if they moved over to the Hellenic League or the Western League, they'd be on the edge of their footprints as well. They can't really win.

Can you spot the White Horse carved in to the hill?
Pewsey Vale play at one of the least well developed grounds in the Wessex League. They're based in the village's sporting hub - a collection of facilities comprising of a bowling green, some tennis courts and the football pitch. The best way to access the ground is to park in the Co-op's car park and walk along a short footpath to the corner of the ground furthest from the clubhouse. Here, a club official will greet you and ask if you've come to see the football. He has to ask you this because there are public footpaths wandering hither and thither around the outside of the pitch - anyone can enter the ground at any time to walk their dog, or simply pass through from one side to the other pushing a wheelbarrow with an enormous potted plant in it (see the photo at the bottom of the page!).

Once you've established that you're here to watch the match, the gateman will take your fiver and store it away safely in his old ice cream tub. Programmes are available for 50p - this week's copy was mostly adverts, with an insert featuring league tables and suchlike. I spend many hours poring over the programmes I buy at Wessex League grounds - I always seem to learn something new. This week's new-found knowledge is that there is a business in Collingbourne Ducis that will clean your dog's ears for you - Collingbourne Ducis being a village that I've often driven through and wondered what people who lived there did for a living. Now I know.

United Services attempt a cross as the crowd look on.
There isn't a lot of so-called "football furniture" at Pewsey Vale, but it is a pretty ground. Walking clockwise from the entrance, there is a grass bank to your left, which gives a good view of the match if you wish to stand on it (if there's a break in play, you can turn round and watch the locals playing tennis instead - not that there was anyone playing on Saturday). From the grass bank, you can see Pewsey's famous White Horse off in the distance. This is one of eight white horses in Wiltshire, apparently, and was carved in to the hillside in 1937 to celebrate the ascension of George VI to the throne. If you look very carefully at one of the photos above, you might just about make it out - it's a mile away from the village centre, but the locals claim it is part of the village.

Carry on clockwise to the far corner flag, and you will see the only thatched cottage bordering a Wessex League ground (unless anyone knows of another). Throughout the game on Saturday, a well-to-do pigeon sat motionless on the thatch warming his toes and cooing from time to time. He was in the perfect position to see two of the most stunning goals that the village has witnessed this season - firstly, a perfect 40 yard lob from United Services's Michael Dark, who spotted Pewsey's goalkeeper off his line and tried his luck - from the angle that Dark fired the ball in, it would have been torpedoing its way out of the sun towards Pewsey's blinded custodian - a very clever goal indeed. It was harsh on Pewsey, who had matched their promotion-chasing opponents up until that point.

Coming out for the second half.
The second stunning goal that the pigeon would have witnessed came late in the second half, with the home side 2-0 down and kicking towards the Thatched Cottage End. This one was scored by - and I presume I heard this correctly - Gareth Bale (I'm pretty sure that's what his team-mates were calling him, although there was no sign of a Bale on the teamsheet...there was a Dan Reynolds though). I'm not sure if this one was intentional, but it was the second 40-yarder of the game, straight from a free-kick wide on the left. Everyone was expecting a cross, but instead, the ball looped up and over Peter Houkes in to the far top corner. I caught the ball crossing the line on camera, but you'll have to head over to the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page to see that one.

The four goals were shared equally between the two ends, so let's leave the pigeon contentedly cooing and carry on around the ground and head towards the other end to see the other two goals. You have to pass the changing room/clubhouse building before reaching the far goal. This is a single-storey building with a tin roof which provides the only shelter in the ground on a rainy day as the roof hangs over 40 or so red plastic seats placed in two rows. Alternatively, you could watch the match from inside the cosy clubhouse whilst sipping from a mug of tea and chewing on a freshly-made roll, but there are only a couple of windows available, so be quick to reserve your place.

One of these dogs has spotted something more interesting than the football. Probably another dog.
We're nearly at the far end now, but first we have to pass the old spooky schoolhouse on our left. You can almost hear the terrified screams of schoolboys past, threatened with a ruler on the palm of the hand for the mildest misdemeanour by the school's belligerent ghouls (same old jokes since 1902). You can now live in the old house of terror in one of four studio flats if you have a spare £150,000. Watch the match from your mezzanine room under the turrets for free on a Saturday.

It was in front of the old schoolhouse that United Services's second goal originated after an hour or so. A free-kick from wide on the left was lofted in to the box in a more conventional manner than Pewsey's later in the game. The ball was flicked on and landed at the feet of Dark, eight yards from goal. He shimmied to his right, selling a dummy to the keeper, then rolled the ball gently to the left to make it 2-0.

The final goal, a minute after Pewsey's wonder strike, was also at this end. As the local bellringers practiced pealing in the background and a murder of crows cawed overhead as they returned home from a day of scavenging, Liam Bush ran through on goal, only to be chopped down from behind by Pewsey's Gareth Robb. A clear penalty, the only decision for the ref to make was whether to show a yellow or a red card. After consulting with the lino on the far side, common-sense prevailed with a yellow, the penalty being punishment enough. Rich Warwick placed the ball on the spot, ran up to shoot, but slipped as he did so. Pewsey's Louie Latouche dived to his right, but could only palm the ball on to the post, from whence it trickled gently over the line.

At this point, the church bells stopped ringing, leaving only the sound of crows and the congratulatory slapping of shoulders from the visitors.

Only in Pewsey...
Pewsey started the day second from bottom of the league, and there they remained after 90 minutes. Incredibly, this was only their 19th league match of the nine month season, with just seven official Saturdays remaining to squeeze in their remaining 15 games (although the season has now been extended by a week for them and a few other sides that have suffered with multiple postponements this winter).

Let's hope the pleasant weather continues.

United Services stay fourth, with a good chance of promotion come the end of April.

My next report will be from another Wessex League club next Saturday, followed by my final Wessex League club two weeks from then. After that, I'm undecided, but I shall probably finish my match reports for the season at a promotion or relegation clash in mid-April - could be anywhere!

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