Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Corinthian v Alresford Town

Corinthian's electronic scoreboard, after it stopped working in the second half.
I read this book about a year ago - the name escapes me right now - it was about people and places which don't appear on any maps. The author wrote about shanty towns, nomadic tribesmen, and the numerous newly-built cities in China where almost nobody lives, because 90% of the houses have been sold to speculators purely so that they can sell them on to each other to make a profit (the same "businessmen" do the same with new flats in London, by all accounts, helping to push up house prices even further here).

The most interesting case study in the book was that of the North Korean city of Kijong-dong, which is visible from the border with South Korea. Apparently, this ghost city (it's completely empty of any inhabitants) is fully lit at night, with gaudy flashing lights advertising heaven knows what pointing straight at their southern neighbours. It uses up half the electricity supply of the North (the other half will undoubtedly be used by Kim Jong-un and his acolytes in Pyongyang). This city is virtually the only thing you can see in night-time satellite images of North Korea.

Kijong-dong was built to demonstrate to the citizens of South Korea that their northern neighbours are having a wonderful time, just like them. Maybe even better. However, it only takes a pair of binoculars to nail the lie. It's quite obvious that nobody lives there if you look hard enough. No movement other than the flashing lights - no people, no cars, nothing.

Respect for the fallen before kick off.
Corinthian FC (2) 3 v 2 (1) Alresford Town FC
Buildbase FA Vase Second Round
Saturday 12th November 2016
Attendance: 52
Admission: £7
Programme: £1
Colours: Celtic v All yellow
National Grid reference: TQ5967

A prefab stand, which is a common enough sight - but this one is resting on a flat bed from a hay wagon to give it some elevation.
The North Korean city reminded me of all the liars and fantasists I've met over the years, albeit on a much larger scale. The bragging mate who's had all the girls (although you've never seen him ever talk to a woman, let alone "score"); that other bloke you talk to occasionally in your local who's been to every landmark gig since punk broke, despite the fact he always seems to be sat in the same seat in the same pub every single night (he let slip he'd just celebrated his 50th birthday the last time you saw him, which meant he would have been 10 when he saw the Pistols play at the 100 Club...).

Your hardnut football mate who tells you preposterous tales about his time in the 657 Crew in the 80s. You know he can't have been ambushed in the back streets of Mansfield by their Shady Express firm, because Pompey never played Mansfield in the 80s, but he'll still insist he was there. And you know that nothing went down at QPR the day that Ian Baird scored his only goal for the club (a tap in from a yard out), because you were there, but he'll still brag about taking the home end virtually single-handed.

Corinthian's first goal. The changing rooms with flats above in the background.
There's the individual fantasists, and then there are the corporate and political fantasists. We'll leave recent elections aside here and concentrate on Sky's constant Premiership hype. Have you ever been to a match at which the Sky cameras were present? Did you watch the bombastic build-up to the game before you set off? Did you watch the game again on catch-up later to see the meagre highlights? Then you'll know the disconnect between the hype and the reality of the best league in the world. It's all just like your bragging mates, but bigger, louder and even more unbelievable.

Corinthian Sports Club are the antithesis of all this nonsense. They're the reformed continuation of one of the original exclusive gentlemen's amateur football clubs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Based at Gay Dawn Farm between the villages of Fawkham and Longfield in Kent, their story is expertly told by David Bauckham in his superb football blog Exposure. I highly recommend reading this piece, it's a real treat. And David is a great photographer, so there are many more ground photos on Exposure to complement the pictures that I took on Saturday.

Highlights from David's story include the fact that the club only played friendlies during the first thirteen years of its existence, including against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City; the club have remained strictly amateur from their formation in 1972 until the present day; and that people live in flats above the dressing rooms - players are reminded to be quiet and respectful to the neighbours.

One of the four bus shelters.
My journey to Kent from Southampton was stressful, driving along the monochrome motorways of southern England. Grey skies, grey tarmac, grey cars splashing grey spray on my windscreen. Slowly does it. Would the match be postponed? No news on Twitter before I left, so I stopped at Liphook to check. No signal. Stop again 15 minutes later after Guildford - game on! Off of the M25, past Brands Hatch, turn left...and we were suddenly in a glittering golden tunnel, driving along the country lane towards Gay Dawn Farm, glorious autumn foliage overhanging our route.

Having parked the car, a ginger farm cat sauntered towards me. Could I stroke her? "No, I'm a farm cat, nobody touches me!"

Corinthian's football ground is part of a wider sporting complex. There's another full-size football pitch, a golf course, an artificial five-a-side pitch, and a kindergarten, amongst other facilities.

As you enter the ground, to your left is the pavilion containing the dressing rooms and a small tea bar. There are three rows of blue plastic seating beneath a balcony, presumably used by the residents of the flats above. Between the entrance and the pavilion is a row of sunflowers, now starting to look a little sorry for themselves in the November drizzle.

By the entrance is a brick and wood sheltered stand with a corrugated plastic roof containing two rows of numbered white seats which must have been shipped in from a professional club, the numbers on the backs randomly placed. There was the number 10 - next to it was 66 (and all that). I conversed with a fellow who visits Corinthian when Ebbsfleet are away - we wondered if the seats had come from Spurs.

There is a toilet block in a container at this end, above which is an electronic scoreboard, which worked in the first half, but went on the blink in the second.

Along the right-hand side are four plastic bus shelters and a prefabricated seated stand which has been placed on the back of an old truck, giving it some welcome elevation. The far end is hard standing, but with overhanging trees giving some shelter from the light rain which fell throughout the match. The remaining side contains plastic dugouts and a latticed TV tower, but is out of bounds for spectators. The whole ground has a rural feel (Gay Dawn Farm is a working farm - some of the countryside smells wafting around the pavilion proving it!).

Chasing a loose ball during first half injury time.
Alresford Town travelled to Kent having knocked out Chippenham Park, Cowes Sports and Lingfield in the previous three rounds. Corinthian had seen off Sevenoaks Town and Alton, having had a bye in the first qualifying round. The two teams looked evenly matched on paper, and so it proved on the day, as either club could have made a case for victory.

Corinthian took the lead with their first dangerous attack after ten minutes. Michael Hagan chipped the ball over advancing keeper Wayne Shaw, Robert Flooks hooked the ball off the line, but it fell straight to Conor Johnson, six yards out on the left, who knocked the ball back in, Flooks helpless this time as he tried to regain his balance in vain.

Alresford were the better team, but they fell two behind eight minutes later from Corinthian's second serious attack. Again, Johnson was involved, nipping in behind the right-back to shoot low and hard across the goal. Shaw saved, but the ball fell in to the path of a Corinthian player, Luke Tanner, who was able to slot the ball in to an empty net from close range, in a similar manner to the first goal.

Despite being two down so early, Alresford kept pressing, Chris Mason having a screamer from 25 yards headed off the line before he slid home Town's first from the penalty spot after 22 minutes. Simon Everrett was upended as he tried to trick his way past a Corinthian defender and Mason was cool-headed as he beat keeper Hagan low down to his right.

Town continued to have the better chances but couldn't force an equaliser before half-time.

Sunflowers beginning to droop a bit now it's November. This corner led to Alresford's second goal.
Discussing the match at half-time with my new friend from Ebbsfleet, we both agreed that there would be more goals in the second half, and that Alresford would definitely score at least one of them. I argued that they would go on and win, but he wasn't so sure, thinking that there would be extra-time and possibly a replay to settle the tie.

There was no need for extra-time in the end, as Corinthian played much better after the break. They looked more likely to extend their lead as Shaw was forced to work a lot harder to keep his team in the game, making several decent saves. However, Alresford did get their equaliser, as we'd predicted, when Aaron Blaxall was on hand to chip the ball in from three yards when it fell to him after a corner wasn't cleared properly after 62 minutes.

Mason missed a great chance soon after the goal, but the rhythm of the game was generally with Corinthian, especially after they brought on 17-year-old winger Louis Clarke, who was a constant menace to Alresford's overworked full-backs. It was he that sped past Tom Richards after 73 minutes to fire in a low cross for the unmarked Tanner to volley in from close range for the eventual winner.

Sam Burt should have equalised with a few minutes remaining, but he shot straight at a grateful Hagan. The amateur club from the Southern Counties East League had done just enough to earn themselves a place in the last 64. Alresford will be kicking themselves, as they could and probably should have earnt at least a replay.

On my way out, I saw the aloof farm cat again. She ignored me, instead creeping through a gap in the hedge near the elevated stand. As the floodlights went out, no doubt the countryside creatures of the night were taking over the farm's football ground. Tonight, the farm cat will feast upon football ground mice.

Thank you to the reporter from the excellent Kentish Football website, without whom I would have struggled to fill in some of the names of the players involved in the action on Saturday. His lengthy report is here.

There are another 30+ photos from Corinthian on the HAH Facebook page here.

The third area of covered seating at Corinthian.
Other than Alresford, here are the other local results from the FA Vase this weekend:

Croydon 2-1 Andover Town
Eight man Moneyfields 0-4 Thatcham Town
Portland United 1-2 Blackfield & Langley
Shaftesbury 1-3 Team Solent
Hartley Wintney v Melksham Town was postponed, but the away side won the rearranged match yesterday evening by 2 goals to 1.

Newport (IW) lost away to Buckland Athletic, whilst Bemerton Heath Harlequins beat Cullompton Rangers in a replay on Tuesday evening, which means that only three Wessex League clubs are  through to the last 64.

The draw for the Third Round was made on Monday. The two remaining Hampshire clubs were paired with opposition from the south-west:

Exmouth Town v Blackfield & Langley
Team Solent v Bodmin Town

A trip to Exmouth on December 3rd is very tempting. We'll see what the weather's like!

The next HAH will be from a Hampshire Premier League ground on November 26th.

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