Monday, 8 August 2016

Bridport v Alresford Town

The main entrance at Bridport FC. There won't be a friendlier welcome all season.
Back again for another season of thrills, spills and - no doubt - the odd bellyache. No more friendlies, no more swapping the entire team around at half-time, no more cramp or stitches through lack of fitness. Football was back on Saturday - proper, no holds barred, competitive football was here again for another season, and it felt great.

Before I get on and describe the match and Bridport's ground, I'll just spend a little time letting you know HAH's plans for the season ahead:

I've been writing this blog since January 2011. The initial aim was to visit and report on every football club in Hampshire down to the tenth level of English football (the bottom divisions of the Wessex and Combined Counties Leagues). There were 42 clubs in all, and it took me until the end of the 2012/13 season to achieve this aim. The following season, I had to do something else, so I decided to follow the county's clubs in the FA Vase until they were all knocked out. I chose a good season, because Sholing went all the way to Wembley and won the cup.

It was during 2013/14 that I branched out and started visiting grounds outside of the county - I had to when some of the Vase ties were played in other parts of the country. But there has always been the one overriding rule that I will feature at least one club from Hampshire in each match report - this rule will remain in force until the blog eventually fades away (or goes out with a bang...).

During 2014/15 and 2015/16, I posted reports from all the clubs that were in the Wessex League at the time that I'd not previously visited, so that at the end of last season, I'd written 100 match reports in total, visited every club in Hampshire down to a certain level, and completed the Wessex League.

The secret back entrance.
Bridport FC (1) 1 v 2 (1) Alresford Town FC
Emirates FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
Saturday 6th August 2016
Attendance: 146
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: Red / black / black v All yellow
National Grid reference: SY4692

Alresford Town warming up.
So, what to do this season? Do I do something completely different, or carry on as before? I was giving this some thought over the summer, when I came up with a reasonably good idea - I usually report on 17 matches in a normal season - why not feature matches in 17 different competitions and call the series "17 for 16/17"? Looking at the practicalities, I calculated that there were well over 30 different competitions that Hampshire non-league clubs would enter this season between them - depending upon how far down the pyramid I went, there would be at least 12 leagues/divisions, and many more cups, at national and county levels, as well as various league cups. And as I intend to feature at least one women's match this season, the total would increase even more dramatically.

However, the more I thought about it, the less appealing the idea became for several reasons, one of which is the number of cup competitions that are played midweek (midweek games are difficult for me to get to, and photography under floodlights tends not to be great). Also, I want to recomplete the Wessex League, and I'd need some luck with cup draws to feature all of the new clubs in different competitions.

Bridport's substitute jerseys hanging up inside their dugout, spick and span and ready for action.
And so, there are four new clubs in the Wessex League that I've not previously featured (Baffins Milton Rovers, Hamble Club, Shaftesbury, and Weymouth Reserves) - I clearly have to visit all of these between now and April.

Last season, I also attempted to feature each Hants non-league club that I'd previously only reported on once for a second time. I nearly did it, but failed to feature just the one club for a second time - Combined Counties League Eversley & California, so expect to see one of their matches on here at some point.

As I'm not doing "17 for 16/17", that leaves me with another twelve games to cover, so I've decided to start the season with as many FA Cup and Vase ties as I can practically get to, at grounds I've not yet visited. I'd also like to report on at least four Hampshire Premier Football League clubs and at least one local women's match throughout the season.

Hence, the trip to Bridport for an FA Cup match on Saturday.

Bridport's seated stand.
I'd envisioned a grand day out. I'd heard that Bridport had ambitions to be to record collectors what Hay-on-Wye is to antiquarian book lovers. Upon prior inspection, it appeared that there were three record shops in the town, plus a regular record fair (which I would be missing by a week - it returns to Bridport this Saturday coming). That would do me - a morning of record shopping, a bite to eat in an independent cafe, then off to the match. And if Bridport turned out to be a boring town, there was always the beach at nearby West Bay to explore. Make a day of it, that's what we'd do.

However, I'd forgotten how heavy the traffic is on a Saturday in August travelling west. We set off at 9:30, hoping to arrive in Bridport by 11am. At 11am, we were barely out of the New Forest - caravans and Panzerwagens nose to tail all along the route, stopping, starting, stopping again. First gear, second gear, third gear, stop. Hence, we eventually arrived in Bridport at around 1 o'clock.

There's a public car park attached to Bridport's Beehive ground, for which we paid £2 to park for the rest of the day. All proceeds from parking go to the club, and with there being very few spaces in the car park on Saturday, they probably made just as much money from visitors parking as they did from the 146 football spectators.

We only had an hour or so to wander round Bridport before I left my companions to go to the match, so we set off past the ground to the shopping area. I stopped by the entrance to take a couple of photos, when one of the club officials called me over. He was sat at a table full of souvenirs - club shirts, badges, scarves, and a pile of old programmes. When I asked if I could take a picture of his table of treasures, he called his friend out from the nearby turnstile and they posed together for the photo at the top of the page. I was immediately made to feel welcome, and this carried on throughout the afternoon. What a friendly club!

I bought a pin badge.

The square tower of St Mary's Church.
I need to go back to Bridport to fully appreciate the town, but in the short time I had, it appeared to be full of second-hand and antique shops. I found two record shops, one selling new merchandise, the other selling old. In the second shop, the owner was bemoaning the fact that no-one collects Elvis records any more, as the generation that venerated him slowly dies off. Sad.

On my way back to the ground, I stopped and had a good look at some vintage knobs and knockers, but decided that we didn't really need any more of those at home.

Now, let's take a virtual walk around The Beehive...

By 2:15, the merchandise table had been packed up and moved so that it was the first thing I saw on my left as I entered through the smart red clickable turnstile. However, the table was now bare, but would be used during the game as a seat by one of the club volunteers, residing in the corner to open and shut the gate. Upon the cream-coloured breezeblock wall of the turnstile block was a plaque to indicate that Bees Fans Live Here.

Walking clockwise around the ground, there is hard standing behind the near goal. Around the first corner there is a shallow grass bank. Upon the bank is a red park bench with a Reserved sign. This is where my chum from earlier sat during the first half with his friends, cheering The Bees on.

Further along is an Arena stand with sun-bleached red and black plastic seats, erected in 2003. This replaced the original stand which came with Bridport Town when they moved from their previous ground in 1953. After fifty or more years, I guess it was getting a bit mouldy and rotten with age and had to go. I know the feeling well.

Still moving along the same side, we come to the brick-built, whitewashed tea hut, serving all your favourite football food at reasonable prices. Next to the hut is a round, wooden table with a parasol and several wooden chairs.

At the far corner is the changing room block, with the clubhouse beside it, behind the goal. There is space for cars to park at this end, but not for very many. The groundsman's shed lives in the next corner. Outside the shed is a wheelbarrow with grass growing in it. On the grass is an orange hard hat. Behind the shed is a disused entrance cubicle.

All along the final side is a road, presumably so vans can access the clubhouse and deliver delicious and satisfying barrels of beer, which means that the second piece of cover in the ground needs to be tall, like a barn with one side sawn off and the doors taken out at each end. Along this side is netting strung up on poles to prevent balls flying out of the ground and in to the River Brit (next stop, West Bay and then the English Channel).

Penalty for Alresford Town.
For Alresford Town, they started their Wessex League season last Monday evening in the rain at Team Solent. They were 2-0 up after 27 minutes when two opposition players collided, one fell awkwardly and broke his leg. Lying in the rain for half an hour, Myles Burrows was covered in tin foil like a roast chicken whilst waiting for an ambulance. With a 10pm floodlight embargo, by the time the poor lad had been stretchered off the pitch, there was no time to finish the game, which was abandoned, so Alresford had less than half an hour of competitive football in their legs going in to the FA Cup's initial round on Saturday...which was half an hour more than Bridport, who play in the yet-to-start Western League.

You wouldn't have known that the home team hadn't played in anger yet, as they hit the bar early on, and then, after a good 15 minutes of pressure, took the lead as Dan Peach received the ball from the left, then shot home low and hard from ten yards.

However, that was that for concerted pressure from the home team, as Alresford came back in to the game, hitting the post three minutes after going behind, then equalising soon afterwards. Tom Sands ran on to a through ball, just beating the onrushing home goalkeeper to the ball just outside of the penalty area. The keeper grabbed Sands, but he stayed strong and chipped the ball in to the empty net. If the forward had gone down, Bridport would almost certainly have been down to ten men and without a goalkeeper for the next 65 minutes.

Alresford must have had at least ten corners during the latter part of the first half, but couldn't force a second goal. As the teams walked off at half-time, a group of purple-clad young girls came on to the pitch to dance along to Gangnam Style whilst waving big white fluffy pom-poms around for our half-time entertainment. They were raising money to go to Jersey to take part in a dancing competition. I gave them a couple of quid towards the £2,000 they needed. Several family members were there, looking on proudly.

Alresford generally controlled the game during the second half, although Bridport came close to scoring again more than once. Their best chance came after 53 minutes, two forwards being denied by a tremendous double save from Dan Kempson. Three minutes later, Sands was tripped in the box as he wiggled his way past a pair of home defenders. Chris Mason hit the resulting penalty low and hard towards the bottom corner, but Jason Hutchings dived to his right to push the ball away for a corner.

Alresford won the game with a second goal after 68 minutes when they broke down the right, and after a couple of quick passes, Craig Harding drove the ball home through a crowd of defenders.

Collecting the Toolstation League-branded corner flags post-match.
Thank you to Bridport Football Club. I'd recommend a day out in the town and thence to the football club to anyone. Probably best to avoid a holiday weekend in August though...

Alresford Town will travel back to Dorset to play Wimborne Town in the FA Cup Preliminary Round on August 20th.

Other clubs from Hampshire who played in the FA Cup over the weekend:

Lymington Town 0-0 Hamworthy United
Sholing 4-1 Bournemouth FC
Spelthorne Sports 4-3 Hartley Wintney (disappointing for Hartley after doing so well last season)
Camberley Town 6-1 Cove
Andover Town 5-2 Royal Wootton Bassett Town
Moneyfields 4-3 Christchurch
Cadbury Heath 7-0 Folland Sports
Lydney Town 0-6 Team Solent
Bradford Town 1-3 Fareham Town (great result for the Creeksiders)
Whitchurch Town 0-0 Cribbs
Brockenhurst 2-1 Laverstock & Ford
US Portsmouth 2-1 Melksham Town (one of the results of the round!)
Bashley 2-1 Horndean (two wins in a row for Bash after 20 months without a victory!)
Blackfield & Langley 2-0 Hallen
Fawley 0-3 AFC Portchester
Highworth Town 2-1 Tadley-Calleva

I've posted another 39 pictures from Bridport in the HAH Facebook group here.

Here's a couple more photos which I posted on Twitter and which don't appear in the collection on the Facebook group:

The entrance to the club car park, Bridport FC's cash cow.
A powerful cross fired in from Bridport's left which came to nothing.
If you'd like to read a competent, professional match report, you can find one here, and another one here.

Next time, another FA Cup game. I'm just waiting on a replay in deepest Dorset on Tuesday evening before making a decision on where to go...

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