Monday, 7 August 2017

Farnham Town v Fawley

Biblical rain two minutes before kick-off at Farnham Town FC.
And so it begins again. A new season. A fresh start. Everyone is equal, just for one day.

Right now, the league is separated by alphabetical order only. If you are Arsenal, Aldershot or Aalborg, you head your division due to the necessity of having a name, and the luck of that name beginning with the letter A. Hard cheese to Yeovil, York City and Zeljeznicar - there's always next week for you.

In the cups, everyone is still in - all 758 entrants in this season's FA Cup can still dream of a Wembley appearance, or at least a money-spinning run to the Second Qualifying Round and a chance to play in front of 500 fans at a National League South club.

It's 2017/18, and anything could happen.

"Seriously, we cannot start the game until you've brushed ALL THE WATER OFF THE PITCH!"
Farnham Town FC (0) 3 v 2 (1) Fawley AFC
The Emirates FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round
Saturday 5th August 2017
Attendance: 80-ish
Admission: £7
Programme: £1
Colours: Maroon / maroon / white v Sky blue / navy blue / navy blue
National Grid reference: SU8346

Still raining after kick-off.
And so I begin. Hopping Around Hampshire is back for another season - my seventh full season in all since 2011. I feel the need to explain what I do before I can truly begin again. A lot of you will know already, but others will be here for the first time.

This is a blog - one of those quaint leftovers from the early days of the internet, before social media began to dominate. Blogs were invented so that people could shout out to the world about themselves and their interests - their love of fast cars, flower arranging, bee-keeping, whatever. Everyone had one circa 2008. You had one, I had one, we all had one, but nobody read each other's because we were all too busy writing our own.

So we got fed up, stopped and forgot about blogging. Facebook came along and blogs almost died. I'm a dinosaur, an internet iguanadon, but people still read Hopping Around Hampshire, so I carry on. Most posts receive 200-500 hits in the first week of publication, so somebody likes what I do.

The view down the far side at Farnham Town.
I write about Hampshire football clubs, mostly from the Southern League downwards in the pyramid. I regularly travel outside of the county to watch and write about games, but the one rule I have is that every game I feature has to have at least one club from Hampshire involved.

I think people like this targeted approach because there's a fair chance that I'm going to feature your club at least once during the season, and if I don't, then I'll probably write about somewhere you know, or some players that you've watched, managed or played with. There are always lots of photos, both on here and on the blog's Facebook page.

So what are the plans for this season? What can you expect between now and April? Well, I'll be starting off with three matches from the very earliest rounds of the FA Cup, hence the visit to Farnham Town with Fawley.

There will be matches in the FA Vase, probably from places I've not previously featured, but just as likely revisits, especially if I haven't been to a ground for a few years. I'm also intending to write about at least half a dozen Hampshire Premier Football League clubs, probably from October onwards, so look out for them if you're involved at that level.

Most specifically, I'll be paying a visit to Baffins Milton Rovers at some point, as they are the only Wessex League club I've yet to feature as a home side.

Let's begin again.

The sun's come out!
And so we're at Farnham Town, a club which lies less than one and a half miles over the county boundary in Surrey. It's a prosperous town with expensive parking (it would have cost me £4.70 to park for four hours had I left my car in the town centre car park). However, the parking is free for spectators at the Memorial Ground, as the club have agreed a deal with a nearby business park to let fans park there on a matchday for nothing (the car park directly outside the ground is for residents of the neighbouring flats).

The Memorial Ground is pleasingly quirky. The clubhouse lies outside of the ground itself, but the usual food and drink options are available here for the hungry visitor, and at less than half of what you'd expect to pay at a Premier League ground. Maybe less than a third.

There's no turnstile at the entrance to the ground. Instead, a fellow collects your £7 entrance fee from a seat behind an uncovered plastic table. To the left as you enter are new changing rooms, and with no spectator access beyond this building, there is little option but to turn right. And the climb begins.

There's a short, steep ramp up to the first corner. I suspect the pitch had a magnificent slope on it at one point, but it has been flattened (probably when the pitch was lengthened in 1975 in order for the club to progress up the leagues).

Kieran Roche puts Fawley ahead just before half-time.
There's a shelter upon the banking behind the goal containing five rows of plastic seats. This was erected in the mid '70s, so it's around forty years old now. The banking appears to be all grass in my photos, but I can assure you there are stinging nettles mixed in - I know this, because when I sat down on the bank to take the photo shown below, I put my hand on a nettle. It was worth it for the picture though. There is a garden bench seat on the other side of the shelter if anyone wishes to use it.

The hard standing at this end keeps rising until you reach the far corner, when it suddenly dips down again at an alarming rate as you descend towards the dugouts and a second shelter beyond them which has two steps of terrace beneath it. There's another twenty yards of hard standing beyond the shelter, then it rises up again, with steps this time, but there's a dead end here at the final corner, as the end behind this goal is a no-go area for spectators. The Memorial Ground is thus a two-and-a-half-sided ground.

The twenty or thirty people inside the ground at five to three were very grateful for the two sheltered areas, as a violent thunderstorm hit Farnham as the players were preparing to come out. Lightning forked across the sky, count to two, and then thunder roared (it's one second between lightning and thunder roll for every mile away from the lightning strike, isn't it?). Rain hammered down on the pitch, and there were puddles where there were none just five minutes earlier.

Kick-off was sensibly delayed by five minutes whilst the centre of the storm passed overhead. The ref then walked around the pitch, spotted an area which was waterlogged and asked a club volunteer to brush the water off the pitch before he would start the game. I'm sure some refs would have abandoned the game before it had even started, but this one was sensible - it was obvious the storm had passed and that it would be safe to carry on.

An elevated view of proceedings.
The players may have been damp, but there was to be no dampening of their spirit. After all, this was the FA Cup - you're playing your part in the oldest club competition in the world. In a few months, the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United Reserves would be strutting their stuff in the same competition, and you would be able to trace a direct route through to the Third Round Proper...."If we'd beaten X, then Y, then Z, then all these other teams and got to the third round, we would have been drawn...AWAY TO BARNSLEY!"

For Fawley, just one victory would have given them a piece of their own FA Cup history, as they had never won an FA Cup game in five previous attempts, having fallen at this stage against Hallen, Cowes Sports, AFC Portchester (twice) and Almondsbury UWE since 2012. Farnham Town's Cup history is a little more impressive, although they've never made it past the 2nd Qualifying Round.

The first half was even, with neither side having many clearcut chances. Kieran Roche had danced through Farnham's defence a couple of times before being denied, but his third attempt at beating them was successful, as he shrugged off a couple of defenders as he waltzed in from the right, poking the ball past Farnham's keeper from a narrow angle to put The Oilers a goal up just before half-time.

The crowd go wild as Farnham score their 94th minute winner.
Combined Counties Premier Division Farnham improved after the break and got their equaliser after 54 minutes, when Matt Glass smashed a volley in from six yards when the ball dropped to him when Fawley failed to clear their lines.

The task got harder for Fawley when Roche was sent off midway through the half for an off the ball incident. They would have been perfectly happy to stop the game there and then and take Farnham back the the Waterside for a replay. However, on 83 minutes, Dane Sayce fired in a thirty yard free-kick which was tipped over for a corner by Jamie Cunningham in Farnham's goal. Sayce then floated the corner over where his fellow centre-back, Aaron Lucas, stood five yards out. He connected with the outside of his right foot, hitting the ball up and over the defenders on the line. Pandemonium, as Fawley thought they'd done all the hard work with just six minutes remaining.

But this is a sad story, because there was to be no club history made for Fawley. Within a minute, Glass had equalised from the penalty spot, then in the 94th minute, the same player ran from the halfway line before slipping the ball past Connor Beattie in the away goal. Pandemonium again, but this time from the Farnham players. They were in front for less than a minute throughout the entire game, yet it will be they who travel to Godalming Town in the next round, whilst Fawley will pop up the road to local rivals Romsey Town in the league instead.

Farnham Town players celebrate their last-minute winner.
There is an excellent match report on Fawley's website here. It features a couple of my photos that I posted on Twitter, plus a GIF of Lucas's goal. There will be another 40 or so photos from the game on the HAH Facebook page shortly.

What a game! It got off to a slow start, but it built up into an exciting finale. It had everything I love about the early rounds of the FA Cup. I'll post a report from another game in the same competition in a fortnight. I haven't made up my mind where from yet, but it will involve at least one club from Hampshire. I stick to the rules.

Friday, 16 June 2017

End of Season Roller Round-Up 2016/17

I've only told a few close friends this up until now, but I think it's about time a few more of you were made aware of my plans for this coming autumn...

I've decided to change my field of work. Enough of barely scraping by working for The Man. I'm striking out on my own. It's the only way I'm ever going to have a chance of getting rich. Enough of the crushing clockwatching tick-tock-tedium of 9 to 5. My dreams are going to become real!

In September, I shall be opening a new tattoo parlour on Shirley High Street. I'm going to call it "I TA-TA-TATTOO Ü". To this end, I've been interviewing potential tattooists. This afternoon, a lad called Ryan called in. I asked him to show me what he could do by giving me a temporary tattoo on my forearm. I drew a roller in my notebook and instructed him to add a wolf to the face of the roller. I sat back, closed my eyes, and let him get on with it.

I must have dozed off, because an hour later, I opened my eyes, glanced down, and this is what I saw:

Is that a toilet roll?!
I couldn't believe it! Not only had Ryan copied my notebook drawing EXACTLY, but he'd also used permanent ink! I now have the world's worst tattoo...

But life goes on, and my next task before the grand opening of I TA-TA-TATTOO Ü is to create an online catalogue of potential tattoos for my future customers. The market for mystical beasts, tribal symbols, messages of love, English roses, upside-down crosses, burning skulls, etc, is well saturated, especially in Shirley, so I needed an original angle.

I decided to try and create a new market for football club groundsmen. Wouldn't they just love a "sleeve" full of rusty rollers, turf prodders and line-marking equipment? I decided to look through my photos from the second half of last season for inspiration for the catalogue, and I think I've come up with a few winners.

Firstly, the life model for my own forearm mistake was Whitchurch United's fairly standard, but effective roller. I've called it KRUSHA! in the catalogue. It's a simple, classic design. For a few quid extra, we can add a wolf to the face of the roller...

If you already have a reasonably full sleeve, we can add a small (but perfectly formed) roller in to a suitable gap on your arm. The life model for this is what we've christened the Cockalorum from Hamble Club. I think the Cockalorum would look good with a cartoon wizard drawn on its smooth surface, but as the customer rules, we can add anything you like - perhaps a scorpion or a snorting bull or a pair of fish, inspired by your personal zodiac sign? Or would you prefer something a little more niche, like Jose Salomon Rondon's face superimposed on a crisp?

If you want a roller design running the length of your forearm, we'll be recommending Banstead Athletic's rusty beast. I wanted to call this one Mr Sausage, but I was dissuaded from using this name, as my business partners considered it a bit risqué. We settled on Saucy Boy in the end. We can do the handles on this one in your own club's colours if you like, although we will insist that the main body is half grey, half rust, just like the original roller.

If you fancy something a little different from our regular roller designs, perhaps you'd like us to tattoo a rope-rolling machine on to your right shoulder blade? We found this one out in the Hampshire countryside at Upham. Our thought process for naming this one went something like this: Countryside > Country Music > Glen Campbell > Wichita Lineman > Wichita Ropeman. So, Wichita Ropeman it is...

It's a fairly complicated design, so it will be one of our more expensive tattoos. However, if you love both rope roller-uppers and country music, we're absolutely sure you'll love this!

The roller we found at Cowes Sports on the Isle of Wight was seemingly used to flatten cow pats. It looked filthy, so we called it Dirty Den. East Enders fans will appreciate this one. But only because it's called Dirty Den. Although, come to think of it, if you'd like us to add actor Leslie Grantham's face to the cow pat, I'm sure we can do that for you.

The saddest roller I've seen this past half-season was at Selsey in West Sussex. Not only is Selsey likely to be one of the UK's first casualties of extreme sea level rise...not only is Selsey the most likely place in England to be struck by a tornado...but this poor roller appeared broken in two. Perhaps its heart was rent in half due to a recent romantic break-up? And now it's the only roller in its social group who doesn't have a boyfriend / girlfriend. We've called this one The Gooseberry in our catalogue. You'll probably want to have this one tattooed somewhere difficult to see, such as between your shoulders, because you'll invariably feel miserable every time you catch sight of it.

Another roller spotted in Sussex was this curious fellow at Arundel. It reminded us of a gigantic woodlouse, so we called it The Crunchy Bat (an Olde English name for our tiny friends from the compost heap). We're working on further creepy-crawly-inspired designs. Look out for the Scary Spider and the Surprising Earwig in the New Year.

Finally in our catalogue, we present our pièce de resistance, the mighty double-barrelled Richter Predator 65 from Fordingbridge Turks. The most incredible roller design we've ever seen, with the super-heavyweight one tonne barrel at the back, and the lighter, more nimble barrel at the front. Filled to the brim with accessories, such as the two-storey drinks holders, the car tyre safety bumpers, the fine adjustment wheely thing. Quite frankly, you'll never be able to afford this as a tattoo, so don't even think about it. I'd stick with the Cockalorum if I were you.

And in case you were wondering...No, Ryan didn't get the job.

If you'd like to see more rusty roller pictures, follow this link: Rollers etc.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Fordingbridge Turks v Vimoutiers

Friendship between twin towns Fordingbridge and Vimoutiers.
Fordingbridge Turks are the oldest football club in Hampshire still in existence. As the game as we know it was invented in the UK, this makes them one of the oldest association football clubs in the whole wide world. The oldest known record of them playing comes from 1868, just nine years after Sheffield FC, the world's very first football club, were formed.

The Turks are so-called because the founders of the club admired the fighting spirit of the Ottoman forces defending the besieged city of Plevna (now known as Pleven, in Bulgaria) during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. The club are reasonably well-known in Turkey and play with the Turkish crescent and star as their crest.

I was always going to feature them at some point on here, and an unexpected opportunity to do so arose on Saturday, when I heard they were playing a game against their French twin town, Vimoutiers (from Normandy).

The Turks are on the verge of celebrating their 150th anniversary, and they were also showing off their smart new dugouts. So why not pop along? The weather was good, the town itself is rather lovely, and there's no more competitive football locally until August. Oh, and there was a special programme being printed AND there were pies for sale at half-time!

Go on then!

Here's a few words and pictures from Saturday's game...

The clubhouse and changing room block at Fordingbridge Turks.
Fordingbridge Turks FC (5) 7 v 1 (0) Vimoutiers FC
Saturday 27th May 2017
Bailey Cup
Attendance: Varied between 60 and 80
Admission: None
Programme: £1.50 (very informative and colourful)
Colours: Blue and black stripes / black / black v Yellow and black stripes / black / black
National Grid reference: SU1413

Brand new dugouts with the club crest proudly painted on the back.
The Turks and Vimoutiers FC were playing for the Bailey Cup - a trophy which can only be won by either of these two clubs, as it was donated by the founder of the twinning scheme, Dennis Bailey, as a gesture of sporting friendship. The two towns were twinned 35 years ago. There were quite a few visitors from France in Fordingbridge over this weekend, no doubt enjoying the food, wine, and friendly chit-chat on offer from their hosts.

A copy of the Basingstoke Cup.
Another trophy on show was a copy of the Basingstoke Cup, which the Turks won outright in 1881 after winning the competition for two years running, beating the Mechanical Engineers of Basingstoke 1-0 in 1880's final, then the Queen's Free Grammar School by the same score in front of over a thousand spectators in 1881.

How do I know this information? Because I bought a copy of Norman Gannaway's book The Turks 1868-1993 from a table selling programmes and books in front of the changing rooms. Norman was present at the match by all accounts, as was TalkSport's Tony Incenzo, visiting his 2,138th ground. I have some catching up to do...

The Bailey Cup (left) and a trophy donated to the Turks by Vimoutiers FC.
I don't know if Vimoutiers sent their first team - I think it was more likely that anybody from the club who could afford the time and money to travel to Fordingbridge was playing - some of their players looked very young. Two of the youngest-looking lads (possibly brothers) were wearing spectacles, which started a conversation about Patrick Kluivert and his glaucoma. How did their glasses stay on? Tied on by elastic?

A close shave for Vimoutiers, as this chance trickles just past the post.
Saturday's game was rather one-sided, with the Turks 5-0 up by half-time. The visitors had been unlucky to lose three players to game-ending injuries during the half, and with only one sub, they were grateful to borrow a couple of Fordingbridge's players to make up the numbers.

The ancient seven-arched bridge crossing the Avon at Fordingbridge.
It was one of the Turks players who scored Vimoutiers' only goal halfway through the second half. It was merely a consolation though, as the home side scored twice more to win 7-1 in the end.

After the match, both sets of players retired to the clubhouse to watch the FA Cup final. I suspect Vimoutiers were cheering Arsene Wenger's Arsenal on, so they will have been pleased to see him lift the cup yet again. Their own trophy, the Bailey Cup, would have been presented to the Turks during the evening, but there was also another trophy on display - the French team had had a special cup made to celebrate the weekend, which they handed over to their hosts. It will take pride of place in the Turks' trophy cabinet from now on, I'm sure.

Bale and Lloris discuss Tottenham's fortunes whilst the game carries on in front of them.
Did the scoreline matter? Of course not! Did the chance to make new lifelong friends in another country matter? Of course it did!

The Turks hope to pay a return visit to Vimoutiers next summer. Should be fun!

I'll post some more photos from the day on Facebook shortly. They will be here.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Whitchurch United v Fawley

A selection of colourful boots lining up at five to three.
It's been a long season, but we're nearly there now. Nearly all over.

What's yours been like? Some of you will be players. You've scored with that incredible volley from thirty yards that you'll never forget in front of only 55 spectators - some of whom would have missed it because they were texting or visiting the loo (but, oh my goodness, you felt like you'd netted a last-minute winner at the Fratton End for just a few seconds there...), or you've made that unbelievable save at the feet of the onrushing forward in the last minute to win all three points for your team. Or you've missed that easy tackle leading to the opposition's equaliser and been teased by your team-mates for days afterwards.

Some of you will be coaches or managers. Your team listened to you about defending against that big lump who was good in the air after you'd traveled a hundred miles on a Wednesday evening to scout your FA Cup opponents. Then they understood your gestures from the dugout when you were pointing frantically at their full-back sneaking up for that corner. They actually listened to you, and sometimes you felt like you'd won a match with your good advice and it was all worthwhile.

Or you'll be a volunteer at your club, putting the nets up and taking them down again afterwards, serving tea and burgers to the regulars, washing the kit, cleaning the dressing rooms, spending hours producing a programme, only for the match to be called off at the last minute. Frustrating, but you'll be back again next week, because you enjoy the camaraderie, the drink in the bar after the game with your fellow volunteers, and it's good to catch up with Joe, who does the same job as you for the club down the road.

Whitchurch United's stand. If you look very carefully, you can just about see the spire of the "white church" that gives its name to the village.
Whitchurch United FC (0) 1 v 3 (2) Fawley AFC
Saturday 15th April 2017
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 60-ish
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: Red and white stripes / red / red v Sky blue / dark blue / dark blue
National Grid reference: SU4647

Maj Syob? Wassat then? Ah, Jam Boys!
You may not be directly involved with a club, but you pay your money and watch the same team home and away every week anyway. You have the limited edition scarf that they sold behind the bar. You wear the club pin badge proudly on your lapel. At home, you drink coffee out of the club mug as you contemplate yet another defeat. But it won't take much to turn it around. Next season, keep the decent players, get rid of the dead wood, bring in that 20 goal a season striker and your team will be there or thereabouts.

Or perhaps you groundhop? You'll either be at a different ground every week, visiting each place once and once only, never returning again, collecting programmes, taking a few photos, meeting up with your fellow hobbyists to chat about the relative quality of chips at each ground in the Southern League. You visit places you'd never visit otherwise, and boy, do you have some tales to tell!

Or you'll stay local, watching any match within half an hour's drive which takes your fancy. You've visited every club within your chosen radius several times over and enjoy the freedom of not worrying if your team wins or loses. Of course, you'll have your favourites (or anti-favourites) - you might want the club with the friendly gateman to win, or the sweariest manager to lose, but you're really there to be entertained and have a bit of fresh air. You just love your football.

It takes all sorts, and we all contribute to the big, fascinating jigsaw every Saturday from August to April.

Fawley on the attack.
On a match day, we all have our roles to play - even the creatures of the animal kingdom! At Whitchurch on Saturday, three red kites glided over the pitch fifteen minutes before kick-off, on the lookout for some tasty carrion - a dead rabbit would be great, but failing that, a freshly-killed mouse would do. As the pitch was clear of rotting flesh, they'd obviously taken it all away and ripped it to shreds with their sharp claws and beaks earlier in the day. Good job!

Dogs and dog walkers were staying away, with Whitchurch's Longmeadow being one of the few grounds in the Wessex League to not allow them inside. No awkward ejections required.

The goals were set up properly, nets pegged down securely; corner flags nice and straight; fluorescent training bibs hung up inside the home dugout ready for the subs to wear when limbering up. The club volunteers responsible for these duties had played their part to perfection, and were now collecting money on the gate, warming up the tea urn or perhaps serving beer and crisps behind the bar. All in order.

Fawley's second goal, headed in by Aaron Lucas (hidden in amongst the Whitchurch defenders).
Perhaps the fellow who erected the corner flags at 1:30 was also the club announcer? If so, it was his turn to entertain and inform the visitors five minutes before kick-off. In relation to the rules on respect, he pleaded with us not to partake in any spitting or scratching. Of course, as a mellow bunch (the only scratching happening today would be the buying and eating of pork scratchings), we were all in on the joke. He then asked us all to clap loudly and cheer raucously when the players entered the field of play. With only thirty or so people in attendance at that point ("the regulars are all in the bar and won't hear me..."), we had a chuckle at the irony. I wonder if the same chap presents a pub quiz? He'd be good at it.

Despite this being the most important match in the league on Saturday, no more than sixty people turned up to watch (with more sneaking in through open gates without paying as the match progressed). Home fans, away fans, friends and family of the players, groundhoppers (I spotted at least one, playing his anointed role of photographing the stand and other structures within the ground), two bloggers (hello to The Terrace Traveller!) and general fans of the local game were all there, but we don't amount to much. We're aware of the slight absurdity of it all, but we don't care what other people think. We like what we do and we're going to carry on.

Football season nearly over? Never mind, there's always Premier Pigeon Racing.
My role, as blogger/photographer, was to guess which end the first goal would go in, and be at that end as the ref's whistle blew. I chose the bottom of the slope, which was being attacked by Whitchurch in the first half. I was confident of getting decent photos of the opening goal and subsequent celebrations. Within a minute, Fawley had taken the lead at the far end, and I had the wrong lens on, as I started the game looking for wide angle landscape shots, as I usually do. Keiran Roche cut in from the right and slid the ball under Ellis Grant in the home goal for 1-0. One day, I'll be in the right place at the right time, with the right lens on my camera. One day...

Fawley started the game stronger, with United's manager querying his team's commitment, "I thought we were up for it?!" On 20 minutes, Whitchurch's Jason Silver headed over from close range, but I had a feeling that Fawley would score again, so I made my way to the top of the slope. Ben Bolton came close to extending their lead, shooting low and hard and on target, but Grant saved well.

Sustained pressure brought two corners in quick succession for the away side - the first was palmed out by Grant, but the second was deadly. Steve Green knew his role as corner taker. He'd had a few sighters and had been delivering a mean cross, but this one was spot on. Aimed between the edge of the six yard box and the penalty spot, it was flighted in perfectly for centre-back Aaron Lucas to attack with a vicious header - down, bouncing two yards out and then up in to the roof of the net, bisecting Grant and the defender on the near post. 2-0 at half-time.

A well-deserved pat on the head for Callum Tanner as Fawley celebrate their third goal.
The referee and his assistants had had a quiet game until the second half, when they were called into action straight away - firstly, an offside flag denying Whitchurch a quick goal at the start of the half, then after 72 minutes, the ref sent Whitchurch sub Jack McCarthy off for dissent.

Ten man United went further behind on 81 minutes when an unmarked Callum Tanner controlled a lofted ball in to the box, turned and knocked it past Grant from eight yards. The result hadn't really been in doubt for quite some time, despite Danny Phillips best efforts, wriggling and squirming his way past Fawley's defence, but he could never get a shot away - there was always someone to stop him eventually. Whitchurch did get a goal back via an unmarked header from Sam McCarthy, but we were in to injury time and it was always going to be the very definition of a consolation goal.

With the match over, attention turned to Twitter, where the result between Cowes Sports and Alresford Town was eagerly awaited by both sides. If Cowes had earned a point, then Whitchurch would be relegated. If Cowes had won, then both teams would be down. As it happened, the Islanders lost, so neither club were relegated on the day.

To make matters worse for one of the Whitchurch players, as I was driving home along the A34, I spotted one of the team parked up beside the road in his tracksuit, car obviously having broken down. He'll have spent the evening nostalgic for the morning, before it all went so horribly wrong...

Inside the stand at Whitchurch United FC.
The final day scenario looks like this:

Whitchurch United have to win away to Hamworthy United this coming Saturday, or they're definitely down. They also need a turnaround in goal difference of nine goals between them and Cowes Sports (e.g., a 6-0 win for Whitchurch and a 3-0 defeat for Cowes would do that). If Cowes Sports draw at home to Amesbury Town, Whitchurch are down. If Fawley win at home to Brockenhurst and Cowes Sports fail to win, Fawley escape relegation and send Whitchurch and Cowes down. If Fawley don't win, they're down no matter what. If Cowes win, both Fawley and Whitchurch are relegated, no matter what they do.

I'd say you'll need a slide rule to work out the permutations on Saturday, but nobody under fifty even knows what a slide rule is, so I won't say that.

Everybody played their roles on Saturday to make it an entertaining afternoon out. My final task is to upload another forty or so photos on to the group Facebook page. I shall do that shortly.

Fawley are having a Pay As Much As You Want Day for their final home game. If you live nearby, are a local enthusiast, or a hardcore groundhopper, pop along and give them a raucous cheer. I can guarantee they'll give everything to have a chance of staying in the Wessex Prem - it will be no meaningless end of season affair on the Waterside this week, that's for sure.

As for me, I've done my bit for 2016/17. I'll be back with the end of season roller round-up, but otherwise, the next report on here will be in August. Have a super summer everyone, and thanks for reading the blog this season!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Stockbridge v Bush Hill

This sign appeared in the book "Got, Not Got" a few years back!
This is the tale of two football clubs whose fortunes could not have been more different this season.

There's the old, traditional village club, who have struggled to compete. Then there's the new club from the big city who can't stop winning.

There's the village described in the Domesday Book as a "small town" with "a school made of chalk", whose football club couldn't raise a team for three league fixtures earlier this season.

Then there's the club from Millbrook, a suburb of Southampton, who have no trouble finding handy players to beat all-comers.

Stocky going through their pre-match warm-up routine...
Stockbridge FC (0) 0 v (1) 2 Bush Hill FC
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Tuesday 4th April 2017
Attendance: About 50
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: All red v Sky blue / dark blue / dark blue
National Grid reference: SU3535

...whilst Bush Hill go through theirs at the the other end of the pitch.
It must be hard for Stockbridge FC. Based in a village of 550 or so inhabitants with a higher than average median age (according to the last census), they must only have around 25-30 men of football-playing age in the village (say, 16 to 35 years old) to choose their team from. Of course, not all of these men would be interested (or capable) of playing the game to Hampshire League standard, so they have to import young men from outside of the village to play for them.

The nearest sources of young men are the towns (or cities) of Andover, Winchester, Romsey and Salisbury, between six and twelve miles distant. I would imagine most of the squad come from these places - they would all need to drive or source lifts as public transport is not good, and would have to give up around 20 minutes of their time to travel to Stockbridge to play or train (then the same amount of time to get back home again).

This can't be easy for the club. Or any other relatively remote village side.

The players emerge from the new dressing rooms.
Contrast this to any team based in a city, where there is a large pool of men of the right age living nearby. You could be aged 16 to 35, live in Millbrook and choose to play for any one of several clubs in or near the estate, e.g., QK Southampton, Bush Hill, or any club that plays in the Southampton League at Green Park.

Bush Hill have only existed since 2002, when AFC Maybush merged with Lordshill SAS (hence the "Bush" and "Hill" taken from each club's name - probably a better choice than combining "May" and "Lords", to be honest). They've achieved a lot in that time. Southampton Saturday Senior League champions five times in a row, they were given permission to enclose part of Mansel Park with railings in 2013, the year that they joined the Hampshire League. They won Division One at the first attempt, making it six championships in a row.

Two fifth place finishes in the Senior Division followed before this season, when they have swept almost all before them. Just two defeats and one draw all season (well done to Fleetlands and Liss Athletic for their away victories and Liphook United for their home draw).

Darkness begins to descend upon Stockbridge.
Bush Hill needed a single point to win the league from their fixture at Stockbridge on Tuesday evening. Whereas poor old Stocky were already guaranteed bottom place and - presumably - relegation. I say "presumably" because anything could happen at this level between now and the league's AGM. Already this season Andover Lions have folded and therefore take one of the two relegation positions, albeit a virtual one. If another club should go to the wall, then Stockbridge would be reprieved (or a reprieval would also be in order if Four Marks or Sway - the top two in Division One - should fail a ground grading inspection and not be promoted).

Stocky didn't win a game until February, when new coaching staff arrived at the club, bringing half a dozen new players with them. Between them, the new players and the original squad members gelled quickly, with the club winning three matches in quick succession. The Great Escape was on, but only one more point has been obtained since February, and with Hedge End Rangers going on a winning streak, Stocky's Great Escape escaped them in the end, bottom place being confirmed on Saturday.

However, just like at the River Test fish hatcheries nearby, there's new life at Stocky. Wherever they ply their trade next season, there will be hope.

Corner for the Bush.
Bottom of the league. Who could have blamed Stockbridge if they'd thought that there is no point in trying? Just let the Bush take away their point and be done. But, of course, you can't step on to a football pitch at any level and not try. There's pride, there's team spirit. You can't let your mates down. A month ago at Bush Hill, Stocky came within seconds of snatching an improbable 3-3 draw, but the home side scored in the last minute to take all three points. Proof to the village side that they could live with the leaders.

And indeed, in front of a crowd of around 50 (split fairly evenly between home and away support), Stockbridge battled valiantly. Generally their defence held out superbly against the onrushing waves of blue-shirted forwards.

Bush Hill hit the bar from a 25 yard free-kick after eight minutes. Playing with a confidence befitting a team who had only failed to win three times all season, they took the lead after 20 minutes, Jack Jewell threading the ball in from 12 yards. Ecstasy for the city lads, as Jack ran half the length of the pitch pursued by team-mates, arms pumping in celebration. He knew - they all knew - that tonight they would be champions.

Goal number two for Bush Hill to confirm them as champions!
A pair of bats flew north by north past Stockbridge's brand new brick-built changing rooms as the team talks were being given at half-time. I looked around me. The old wooden changing room block was still in situ, now used mostly as spectator toilets. To the left was a tea hut with a friendly volunteer dishing out teas, coffees, hot chocolate, Mars Bars and Twixes. All drinks served in mugs. My mug had Father Christmas on it.

To the right of the changing room block was a brand new playground for the children of the village. Nobody using the climbing frame, so I'd leapt up there to take a few photos from an elevated position. From here, I could see the bench-seated stand below me on the left, blocked off tonight (and presumably permanently to prevent it being vandalised).

The second half was similar to the first. Stockbridge defended very well, but couldn't create many good openings at the other end. Goalkeeper Pete Roberts pulled off a couple of terrific saves, but couldn't stop Bush Hill's John Macaulay putting the result beyond doubt on 70 minutes, hammering the ball home from six yards when Stocky failed to clear their lines after a sustained Bush Hill attack.

You could almost hear the chants of "Championes! Championes!" for the rest of the game. You knew the players and supporters of the away side were singing it inside their heads for the last twenty minutes. Eventually, the ref's whistle went, everyone shook hands, then the lads in blue made their way back to the away dressing room, out came the mobile phones in video mode, and the chanting started in earnest.

Bush Hill - 2016-17 Hampshire Premier Football League Championes! How does that feel?!

This is becoming a habit. An arty railings shot to finish (see also Cowes Sports two weeks ago...)
There's a match report on Stockbridge's excellent website here. Loads of interesting information about the club on the site. Well worth a browse.

As is always the case now, I shall publish more photos from this match on the HAH Facebook group page in the next half hour or so. As it was so dark, there aren't as many player photos as I usually post this week. One day, I shall learn how to set up my camera for perfect night-time action shots. Maybe next season.

I came to Stockbridge partly because my Twitter and Facebook followers sent me here following a poll. I may well do that again for my final report of the season on 15th April. Look out for that if you follow me on either site. Until then, enjoy your football (along with any other interests you may have).

Monday, 20 March 2017

Cowes Sports v Sholing

One of the two entrance signs at Cowes Sports. This is the dirty older one, but I liked the daffodils.
Lists. My life is full of them.

Sometimes, if I didn't have a list of things to do, I wouldn't even get up in the morning. I mean, I don't actually have a list telling me what I need to do after I've got up. You know: Visit the bathroom; Get dressed; Feed the cats; Breakfast and a cup of tea; Wash and clean teeth, and so on. This is such a familiar routine that I'll never get it wrong.

It's all the other stuff. At work, if I'm expected to do X, Y and Z, then I need to make a list to show me what I have to do before I reach X, Y and Z. I have notebooks full of As, Bs and Cs from weeks, months and years ago.

There's the weekly shopping list. Don't forget the toothpaste! Then on my phone, there are lists of records to buy, pin badges to order, upcoming gigs. There's another notebook full of football fixtures - both for the teams I actively follow, and potential matches of interest for HAH.

Without lists, I'd just forget everything. My life would lack structure. I'd probably spend all my time watching the telly and surfing the 'net and nothing would ever get done.

The oldest structure in the Wessex League.
Cowes Sports FC (0) 1 v 3 (1) Sholing FC
Saturday 18th March 2017
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 104
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: Blue and white stripes / black / blue v Red and white stripes / white / white
National Grid reference: SZ4895

A call for volunteers.
I know several people who keep spreadsheets of all the football matches they've ever been to. They can tell me how many games they've seen at how many different grounds, how many goals have been scored by the home and away sides, how many red cards have been issued in their presence. In the circles I move in, this is considered normal behaviour.

I've no idea how many matches I've ever seen live because I don't have a spreadsheet (I wish I had, but it's far too late to start now!). All I have is a few scraps of paper with details of the matches I've written about for HAH. Having checked my HAH records, I know that I've written about Sholing six times previously (more than anyone else, with the exception of Havant & Waterlooville, Alton Town and Hythe & Dibden, all also featured six times). They've won the last four of these games, including the FA Vase final in 2014. I've seen Sholing score 12 goals and concede seven. Whereas, I've never covered Cowes Sports before - the only club in the Wessex League that I've not written about.

Which is partly why I was at Westwood Park on Saturday. Partly, because I put the choice to a vote, with my Twitter and Facebook followers sending me to the Isle of Wight instead of Four Marks. I don't know why I've never thought of putting a vote out there before. I shall do it again as it was strangely entertaining, checking every couple of hours to see who was winning.

Marvin McLean attacking the Cowes Sports right-back.
What would happen if I wrote a match report as a list? Well, that's pretty much what I do at an HAH game anyway, jotting down noteworthy incidents as they happen, to be expanded upon later.

So, without editing, what did Saturday's game look like in my notebook?

  • 1m 0-1 9 Dan Mason fk turned shot 12yds
  • 50m CS hit bar
  • 60m 0-2 9 Mason through ball turned shot 18yds
  • 65m 1-2 ??? turn and shot 20yds from short corner deflection?
  • 70m 1-3 corner 5 headed back in ??? turned volley 6yds

Doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? Lots of turning and shooting, but I'll stick with those descriptions, because all four of the goals were the result of someone quickly controlling the ball from a pass, twisting their body to face the goal and volleying the ball fast and hard in to the net. The goalkeepers never stood a chance with any of the four goals.

After the match, I could check Twitter for the missing goalscorers, the "???"s. The mystery man for Cowes was Dexter Malin (who must have got a touch on the incoming shot from outside the box to divert the ball past Sholing's Ryan Gosney), with the missing scorer for Sholing being Dan Mason.

Sholing's third goal was also Dan Mason's third, which was his 100th for the club in 154 games. That's an impressive ratio.

The seventh time I've written about Sholing and their fifth straight victory. You could say I'm their lucky charm, but I don't believe in that sort of thing. They're just a very good side for the level they play at. If Cowes believed in unlucky charms, they would probably want me to go and watch Whitchurch United for the rest of the season, as they are the Island club's main relegation rivals - Cowes sitting fourth from bottom of the Wessex Prem, one place above Whitchurch in the final relegation position. Whitchurch have lost every time I've featured them.

Preventing Lee Wort from scoring, by fair means...
I had other notes in my book. These are bits and pieces that I wrote down before the match, as I always do my homework before I go anywhere for the blog.

Highlights from my studies included:

  • Cowes FC (and subsequently Cowes Sports since the original club's merger with Whites Sports in the early 1980s) have played at Westwood Park since 1912.
  • The stand at Westwood Park is the oldest structure in the Wessex League. It was built in 1921 by local boatwrights and chandlers in a nearby sawmill in Medina Road.
  • Largely untouched since 1921 inside, but reclad in the early 1990s.
  • There used to be another stand opposite, but this blew down in the wild storms of 1987.

(Source for these facts: Peter Miles in The Homes Of Non-League Football).
Looking at old photos, there was a small uncovered terrace next to the main stand, but the building containing the clubhouse and changing rooms was constructed on this spot around 25 years ago. One step survives.

Beyond the big stand is another covered area, one step high but with a ramped entrance so that wheelchairs can use it, which can be seen in the fourth photo here. In the corner behind this structure is a tree with a handmade swing, at a perfect height for a six-year-old child.

All the structures at Westwood Park are on one side, with the rest of the ground being hard standing with a mixture of walls and blue and white railings separating spectators from the pitch.

...or foul! Ouch!
And there were yet more notes - interesting historical snippets taken from Norman Gannaway's Association Football in Hampshire until 1914:

  • Cowes FC were formed in 1881. Early opponents included Banister Park School, Ringwood Hornets, Portsmouth Sunflowers, Total Abstinence of Basingstoke (my absolute favourites - I wish they were still around!), and Fordingbridge Turks (Hampshire's oldest surviving club - I must feature them next season).
  • Woolston Works (Sholing's forerunners) won the first ever Hampshire Senior Cup in 1888. They imported a large number of Scotsmen who were employed as shipmakers. The Scots introduced "modern methods of football into the county".
  • People complained about the new style of play. For example, in 1887, someone called Old Stager wrote that "in our time we played for fun, and we enjoyed the rough and tumble of a manly sport. Now, your footballers go into training for their matches, wear shin-guards to save their legs, and with all their skills have taken all the rough and tumble out of the game". I wish Old Stager was still around. I'm sure we'd get on famously.
  • Cowes won the first ever Hampshire League title in 1897. The deciding match was at home to Portsmouth's Royal Artillery, which the island club won 1-0. However, some of the home supporters made for a Royal Artillery player who "was pelted with orange peel and pursued by the unruly mob". Apparently, Cowes supporters "did not bear a very good character...continually hooting and hissing the gunners..."

There's much more of this priceless detail in the book. Recommended if you can source a copy. I can assure you that Cowes fans no longer hoot and hiss at the opposition. Nor do they throw orange peel at them. Just a frustrated sigh or two as their team lose at home yet again.

Dan Mason's hat-trick goal for Sholing.
But I haven't told you how to get to Westwood Park yet. Some of you will want to visit. Here's how you can do it...

  • Buy a through train ticket to Cowes (West).
  • Catch the free bus from Southampton Central train station (south side). Buses on the hour and half  hour on a Saturday.
  • Arrive at the Red Jet terminal after seven minutes.
  • Board the Red Jet (£16.40 adult day return if you don't already have a through ticket). They go at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour.
  • The Red Jet takes 23 minutes to cross The Solent.
  • Walk 15 minutes up a steep hill (which gradually becomes less steep) to Westwood Park.

Thus, from boarding the shuttle bus at Southampton station to arriving at Westwood Park, it takes just less than an hour.

If walking up a steep hill is difficult for you, then it is possible to take your car on the car ferry (which takes about an hour to cross The Solent and lands at East Cowes). All up-to-date information for the ferries is here.

The inevitable arty shot at the end.
A well-written match report for this game is on Sholing's website. It features several more of my photos. If there was a prize for Best Website at the Wessex League end of season awards ceremony, then Sholing would almost certainly win it. However, I don't believe such an award exists. It should, it really should.

I shall post another 40 or so photos from Cowes Sports on the HAH Facebook page in a while. If all these pictures aren't enough, then there are even more on my Flickr profile here. I don't usually use Flickr, but it seemed like the best place to put them this week so that Sholing's webmaster, Keith Legg, could access them easily for their match report.

The next HAH will be in two weeks. I shall put the destination up for a vote again, as I can't make up my mind. The choice will be between a women's match on Sunday April 2nd and a men's match in the Hampshire League on Tuesday the 4th.