Monday, 22 August 2016

Cadbury Heath v Team Solent

Panoramic view of Cadbury Heath FC.
Did you see the news recently about the Duke of Westminster dying and leaving £9,000,000,000 (NINE BILLION POUNDS!) to his third child - his first son - the male heir to his title? What you might not have realised is that until all the relevant papers are signed off, this money is held in trust by the duke's solicitors.

Not naming any names, but a friend of mine works at the solicitor's office dealing with the late duke's estate, and whilst I was out drinking with him the other night, he let slip that they'd made a right boo-boo. Apparently, towards the end of a particularly busy day, his boss was putting his signature on a few important papers, and somehow he'd managed to get two of his cases mixed up. This happens fairly regularly, I was told, but usually they can bluff their way out of it.

This time, however, one of the papers was to do with the late duke's estate, with the other case being a minor dispute between Cadbury Heath Football Club and their tea bag suppliers. Somehow, because of his boss's incompetence, Cadbury Heath were going to inherit £9bn, with the duke's heir receiving a catering-size box of Ty-Phoo (well, at least the poor guy will never be thirsty, I thought in my semi-inebriated state...). I mentioned to my drinking companion that, coincidentally, I'd be going to Bristol to watch the Heath play Team Solent in the FA Cup the following Saturday.

He asked me to keep schtum for the time being.

We've met before, haven't we?
Cadbury Heath FC (3) 4 v 1 (0) Team Solent FC
Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 20th August 2016
Attendance: Around 25 at kick-off (including club officials), rising to 50 or so as people wandered in from elsewhere during the game
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: Red with white sleeves / red / red v All white
National Grid reference: ST6672

The sheltered recess next to the changing rooms.
I'd been in contact with Cadbury Heath earlier in the day, asking if it would be okay to come and take a few photos at the match. They were fine with that, but they did ask me if I could make their ground look bigger than it actually is - which gave me an idea. What if I spent some of their secret fortune on their behalf by hiring some temporary stands for their FA Cup game? Some big ones, like the ones at the finishing line of the marathon in the Rio Olympics. This seemed like such a good wheeze after six (or was it seven...or eight?) pints. I'm sure I could do this online, right here, right now, I thought.

Sure enough, there were some ready-to-erect seated stands available which had been used at an equestrian event in Gloucestershire the previous weekend. Cadbury Heath would love it if they turned up on the day and their ground suddenly had 5,000 seats...

But what about the playing squad? Looking at the Toolstation Western League table, they looked like they were the strongest team in the league, as they were propping up the rest of the clubs, right at the bottom, without a point so far this season. Wouldn't it be great if I could persuade a few top players to sign for them by the weekend? I soon found Sol Campbell's agent's number, and when I mentioned the amount of money that the Heath were soon to have in their possession, he said he would have no problem in persuading Sol to come out of retirement and sign up for my "project".

He then asked me if I'd like to sign Tal Ben Haim as well. I said no.

How to hold a ball with style.
I was looking forward to seeing the fruits of my endeavours as I set off for Bristol on Saturday morning. After the trip in heavy traffic to Bridport two weeks ago, I'd decided to go by train this time, buying a cheap advance ticket. My head was spinning with excitement as I stepped off the train at Temple Meads. "They're going to love their new-look stadium...I wonder if Sol Campbell's turned up yet...I hope they have enough teabags..."

It was tipping down with rain as I boarded the number 43 bus to Cadbury Heath. Up to the top deck to watch Bristol trundle by. Through Russell Town and Redfield we scuttled, past miles of terraces, shops below, flats above, windows shrouded with net curtains to prevent upper decksters from prying. Past inner city petrol stations now converted to hand wash and valeting centres, bored young men in baseball caps sitting outside having a smoke whilst waiting for their next customer.

More bored men in black t-shirts inhaling on e-cigarettes outside of their tattoo parlour, again waiting for custom. Would their next job be a dragon, a mermaid, or something more esoteric? A drunken student wanting a Teletubby emblazoned across their shoulders, perhaps?

Miles more shops, estate agents, takeaways all competing for the Just Eat dollar, the little red sign of the internet go-betweens above every other doorway. Vaping centres, charity shops, rundown churches and gurdwaras, New Look, Greggs, was just like Shirley.

Then over the ring road, and suddenly, it looked a little more prosperous. This was Cadbury Heath, and I was looking out for the St George's cross painted on the outside of the King William IV pub - The King Billy. There it is! Time to get off!

Corner for Team Solent.
Cadbury Heath's Springfield ground is well hidden. I knew roughly where it should be, so I wandered up a bobbly concreted track next to the Cadbury Heath Sports & Social Club, expecting the football ground to be at the end of the track. It wasn't, but I could see floodlights behind some trees, so I retraced my steps and walked up the next track instead, this time with gravel under foot. Sure enough, there was the football ground, but what a shock! No temporary stands! No Bentley bearing Sol Campbell's personalised number plate! What was going on?!

I texted my friend in a panic. After all, I'd promised the stand erection company and Sol Campbell's agent many thousands of pounds each, and neither had turned up. My friend texted me back almost immediately. He said that his boss had rectified his mistake, and that everything was as it should have been prior to the cock-up. And he'd explained everything to the stand company and Sol Campbell's agent and I owed them nothing.

The agent had offered him Tal Ben Haim for free, but he'd said no.

Well, Cadbury Heath had never known that they had so nearly been in possession of an unimaginable fortune, so I thought I wouldn't mention it whilst I was there.

I was early, so I meandered in through an open gate. Immediately to my left was a toilet block. Around the corner, backing on to the toilets, was a tea hatch in a recess. I sat down on a wooden bench in the recess and gathered my thoughts. At least things were back to normal now. I got up and glanced above me. There was a smart sign with footballs on it telling me that I'd arrived at Cadbury Heath Football Club. Behind me, club officials were confirming the teams for today, official paperwork being prepared for the FA. I hoped they were more competent than my friend's boss.

There was noise coming out of a door to my left. It was "banging beats", the sort that my daughter enjoys. This was obviously the changing rooms. There were barriers outside of the changing room door, over which spectators cannot venture, so I could only walk anti-clockwise around the ground from here. A few yards past the sheltered recess was an Arena stand with faded black and red plastic seats. Beyond the stand, there was hard standing all the way around the ground until the top corner. When I reached this corner, I was able to fight my way along a dirt path underneath some overhanging bushes (relief from the rain!) until I reached a barrier which prevented any access for the final quarter back to the changing rooms.

Did I say "top" corner? Well, it literally is at the top, as there is an impressive slope running diagonally down the pitch - not unlike Petersfield Town, but not quite as steep. From the top of the slope, there is a rather lovely view of the hills beyond Bristol - the last gasp of the Cotswolds - or at least, it would have been a lovely view without all the blooming miserable rain clouds spoiling it.

The only other features of note inside the ground are the dugouts, made of brick and painted red and black.

The clubhouse, decorated with pennants from other clubs - including Team Solent from a previous meeting, as they were playing each other for the third time in successive seasons - and rammed with tables full of ham sandwiches for after-match hospitality, is outside the ground at the bottom of the slope.

Handshakes for a job well done. The clubhouse portakabin in the background.
The story of the match was one of three worldies and a pen (hang on, wasn't that the taekwondo scoring system at the Olympics..."our brave fighter won their contest by three worldies and a pen"?). The Heath began the scoring before my watch had reached 3:02. Attacking down the slope, Matt Huxley received the ball on the left and attempted a delicate chip from the left-hand side of the box. This would have gone awry nine times out of ten, either drifting over the bar, or straight in to the keeper's gloves, but this chip was sprinkled with magical FA Cup dust as the ball wriggled its way through the tiny gap between the keeper's outstretched fingers and the bar.

Team Solent weren't without their chances, but they looked strangely off the pace compared to when I've watched them before. Perhaps it's too early in the season for them and the current crop of players haven't had time to gel yet?

The home side deservedly went 2-0 up after 43 minutes when Jamie Horgan picked the ball up, completely unmarked in the exact same position as Huxley earlier on. This time, instead of a delicate lob, Heath's number 7 moved the ball onto his right foot and went for the curler in to the far corner. I don't know if that one counted as a worldie, but for the purposes of my narrative, we'll say it was.

The students (plus alumni, staff and guest players) of Solent University were three down two minutes later as the ball was lofted in from in front of the covered recess and Huxley got on the end of it to nod in an unstoppable header from 18 yards. The students filming the match from the sidelines (presumably for post-match analysis) would have recorded much to analyse in the first half.

Solent almost got back in to the match soon after the restart, but Matt Sheedy blasted over an open goal from eight yards. Oops. As a series of drizzly showers came and went in the second half, it looked less and less likely that the team from Southampton would produce a miracle, despite playing much, much better than in the opening period. They did get a goal back after 77 minutes, as Patrick Nolan looped a header over Cadbury Heath's custodian, Jamie Powell, but it was never going to be enough.

The Heath put the game beyond doubt with a couple of minutes remaining as substitute Chris Astley was bundled over by the penalty spot. Up stepped Martin Johnson to shoot low and hard to his right.

Post-match handshakes, and then it was time to take the goals down and chain them to the railings, lock away the advertising boards and bins in the sturdy dugouts, and erect wire fences over the stand and recess, making it hard for any local hoolies to do any significant damage before the next game.

4-1 to Cadbury Heath. Their reward? Another home tie, this time against Plymouth Parkway. Win this, and they could be drawn against  a relatively big club from the National League South in the following round. Heady days for the Bristolian minnows.

Time to take the goal down and chain it to the railings.
Disappointing for Team Solent, especially after hammering Lydney Town 6-0 away in the previous round. Coincidentally, this was the first time I've featured them and they haven't won.

Better news for Alresford Town, who I featured two weeks ago at Bridport, as they earned a replay in a 1-1 draw away at Southern League Wimborne Town. They'll be at home this Wednesday evening, looking to complete the job they started down in Dorset on Saturday.

This is how the other surviving Hampshire clubs fared this weekend:

CB Hounslow United 2-1 Petersfield Town (one of two local Southern League clubs to fall to lower league opposition)
Spelthorne Sports 2-3 Andover Town
Farnborough 5-1 Longlevens
Yate Town 1-2 Fleet Town
Bashley 1-2 Sholing
Blackfield & Langley 1-2 Paulton Rovers
Gillingham Town 2-0 AFC Totton (the other slain giant from our area)
AFC Portchester 2-0 Mangotsfield United (another upset, but this time in "our" favour)
Whitchurch United 0-3 Moneyfields
Verwood Town 2-2 Fareham Town (replay at Cams on Tuesday)
Hamworthy United 2-1 Brockenhurst

Advertisement boards and bin safely stowed away in the dugout ready to be re-erected next Saturday.
I'll post a few more photos from the game on the HAH Facebook page later this evening.

Incidentally, Cadbury Heath's website tells me that Huxley scored a hat-trick! They may post a report here - I wonder if he got a touch on the second goal?

Now, this is usually the bit where I hint at where I'm going next, but I'm stumped this time! The FA Cup First Qualifying Round on 3rd September features Sholing v Havant & Waterlooville - the Hawks are my team, and they're playing a mere 15 minute drive from my house! I don't really like writing about "my" teams - I'd rather just be cheering them on with gusto and not watching the game through a camera lens, and so, I'll be at Sholing on that day with no HAH report to fret about. I'm not able to report on any local games for the following two Saturdays, so I'm probably going to write about a midweek match next. Don't know where or when yet though!

Enjoy your next game, wherever you may go. I'll be back at some point in the near future...

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