Monday, 25 April 2016

Liss Athletic v Baffins Milton Rovers

A lovely Spring afternoon at the Newman Collard Playing Fields, Liss Athletic FC.
I've made it to one hundred. Like Ronnie O'Sullivan on the snooker table or Joe Root on the cricket pitch, I've scored a century. This is the 100th Hopping Around Hampshire match report since I started doing this in January 2011. Hundreds of thousands of words and around 1,000 pictures; 112,000 page views (approximately 75 per day), and various other numbers.

In a typical report, I'll start off by chittering on about something random. For the groundhoppers who read this, I'll probably describe the ground between pictures four and five. For the players, officials and fans of the clubs involved, they have to wait until near the end to see their names in print and a cursory description of the main action. To be honest, by the second paragraph, I suspect half my audience have given up reading and look at the pictures instead, never to return.

And so, this week, I'm going to try and keep this report short, succinct and sensible. Let's start with a bit of background, then straight on to the match...

The view from the home dugout.
Liss Athletic FC (1) 1 v 3 (2) Baffins Milton Rovers FC
Saturday 23rd April 2016
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Attendance: 15
Admission: none
Programme: none
Colours: All blue v Sky blue / black / black
National Grid reference: SU7727 / SU7827

Peek-a-boo! Liss's keeper, as spied upon through the bushes.
I was here because I like to watch a game with something riding on it at the back end of the season. There were a pair of obvious options outside of the Football League: I could have visited play-off chasing Eastleigh for their match with Tranmere in the National League, or I could have caught the free supporters' coach to Concord Rangers with relegation-haunted Havant & Waterlooville. Other than these two, most Hampshire clubs above the county league had little or nothing to play for.

Thus, I chose to go to Liss Athletic, whose opponents from Portsmouth, Baffins Milton Rovers, would win the Hampshire Premier Football League title with a victory. Defeat would give either Otterbourne or Hamble Club - who were playing each other - a chance to overtake them.

Liss have done well this season, sitting in fourth place pre-match, so it could have been a hard game for Baffins.

"Thanks, Grandad!"
The team from Portsmouth playing in their Uruguay-style kit took an early two goal lead, with Harry Potter firing home from the edge of the area after 8 minutes, then reacting first from a corner as the ball dropped at his feet six yards out after 10 minutes - Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani rolled into one deadly finisher. Baffins looked like they might steamroller their opponents at this point.

[Note that I didn't say that Harry Potter produced a moment of magic for either of his two goals. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him growing up, being born a year or two before the first Potter novel came out. During this game, he came up against Liss Athletic's red-headed full-back, who became his honorary Ron Weasley for the afternoon. Shouts of "Where's Hermione?!" rang out from the touchlines...he must hear this sort of thing all the time. I suppose you have no choice but to play along with it. One thing's for sure, he's a cracking player at this level].

Liss's goal, scored just as I was taking a wide angle shot of the trees behind the goal.
After their early setbacks, Liss worked their way back in to the game. As I was chatting with Baffins' goalkeeper's grandad around the half-hour mark, the home side got a goal back from a left-sided corner, just as had been predicted by my temporary companion just seconds before. (I'm sorry, I don't know the name of the scorer - I was relying on this week's Puma Post to inform me, but his name is missing).

As half-time approached, Liss looked like they could spoil Baffins' special day. If only they could get another goal!

During the second half, Harry Potter went off injured after a battle of the super-wands with evil Lord Voldemort in the centre circle. Potter will be back, but I can't vouch for the Lord of Darkness. Even without their two-goal hero, Baffins had the edge, always looking as though they might score the killer third, and so it proved, as a powerful Blu Boam shot from 20 yards bounced over the home keeper with five minutes to go.

Cue the celebrations as Baffins knew they had won the league for the second time in three years - the difference this time being that they had applied for promotion to the Wessex League and had been accepted. Trips to Tadley, Shaftesbury and Pewsey await them next season. They look good enough for a top five spot if they keep this squad together.

Peek-a-boo #2! Blu Boam of Baffins spots the photographer as he's being mobbed by his team-mates.
For the groundhoppers amongst you...

Liss is a village to the north of Petersfield. It has its own railway station on the Waterloo - Portsmouth line, which is ten minutes' walk from the football ground. The football club play at the Newman Collard Playing Fields (I don't know who Newman Collard was). The playing fields are on the south-west corner of the village. Here, you will find tennis courts, a duck pond (featuring a part-sunken duck house), a play area, a basketball hoop, two small football pitches, and the main pitch.

There is a two-storey clubhouse, which is shared with the Puddleducks Nursery (tea served upstairs on a matchday, by the way). Walking clockwise from here around the pitch, you pass by the nursery play area (safely surrounded by a wooden picket fence). Within the play area is a shelter - as far as I know, you could enter this area and stand beneath the shelter if it rains.

The pitch must have been levelled long ago, as there is earth banking starting by the clubhouse and extending all the way along the far side of the pitch. Well-established trees and bushes grow upon the bank, along with the odd bluebell dotted amongst the brambles. You get a good view from the bank, if a little obscured along the near side by vegetation.

Peek-a-boo #3! The celebrations start in the away changing room...Champ-i-on-eees!
Also here for quite a number of years have been floodlights, meaning that Liss are one of only three floodlit clubs in the county league. They're starting to show their age, rusting at the bases, but they must still work, as Liss play several matches under lights every season. I wonder if they had never had lights and applied for planning permission to put them up now, whether they would gain permission? I doubt it.

Beyond the far end of the pitch is a school. At one point during the match, a wayward ball ended up in the school pond - a Liss substitute had to climb over the fence to retrieve the precious, expensive match ball.

Continuing the walk around the pitch, the final side has a temporary rope put up on matchdays - the other three sides of the pitch have a metal rail preventing spectators from encroaching on to the playing surface. Along this side is a public footpath - several dog walkers wandered past as the match progressed.

One thing I couldn't locate was a sign warning the locals of the presence of adders in the vicinity - something that Paul Paxford had spotted on his visit here in 2013. I guess either the sign has disintegrated in the rain, or there are no longer any adders in the area. I didn't see any.

Time for the Liss players to tidy up the netting post-match.
Well done to Baffins on your title. I hope your heads weren't too sore on Sunday! They have one more home match to come, on Wednesday against Headley United. Their next competitive home match after this will be in August, in the Wessex League.

Liss Athletic could also end the season with silverware, as they will play Hamble Club in the league cup final on BankHoliday Monday, May 2nd.

As is usual now, I shall put some more photos from the day on to the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page. I'll do that later this evening.

There you go, that was the new short, succinct and sensible HAH. I'll visit a few more Hampshire Premier Football League clubs next season. If you're involved with one and would like me to feature you, let me know either here, or on Twitter or the Facebook page (links on the right if you're viewing this on a PC or tablet).

Next up, the traditional end of season roller round-up in two or three weeks, which almost certainly won't be sensible.

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