Monday, 16 January 2017

Hamble Club v Totton & Eling

Leaving the changing rooms at 2:55. Minutes away from kick-off!
Mine was one of the last generations to grow up before the internet took over the world, before everything you could possibly want to know was just a click or two away on your PC, tablet or smartphone. In the 1970s, if I wanted to know where Dortmund was, I had to search for it in the index of a world atlas, then hunt for it somewhere in square H10.

If I wanted to know what people did for a living in Denmark, I would go to my dog-eared set of  encyclopaedias (all sixteen books), choose the right volume (Cod to Elbow), and flick to page 237, wherein I would read all about bacon production and then be tempted to carry on reading by the links at the bottom of the article ("See also: MERMAIDS, CHEESE, BEER*").

If I wanted to read about local football, well, there wasn't much information at all in my books - maybe a league table or two at the back of the Rothmans Annual, if I was lucky. The Sports Mail would be the place to go on a Saturday evening for local football news. Waterlooville, Fareham Town, Havant Town and Gosport Borough would all have a hastily phoned-in match report, and perhaps a short news story on the comings and goings that week. Beyond the big clubs, there might be a feature on one of the smaller Wessex or Hampshire League sides.

* My ideal night out...

Hamble Club's bright and cheerful wooden stand.
Hamble Club FC (2) 2 v 0 (0) Totton & Eling FC
Saturday 14th January 2017
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 43
Admission: £5
Programme: £1 (although I forgot to ask for one!)
Colours: All yellow v Red and black stripes / black / red and black
National Grid reference: SU4707

Throw-in for Totton & Eling.
Things have changed. You can find anything at all now within seconds. Nothing needs to be memorised, unless you wish to win a pub quiz without cheating. For example, I didn't know the current champions of Albania until a few seconds ago. Why should I? Nobody's ever going to ask me that anyway (it's Skenderbeu of Korce if anybody's interested - six seasons running apparently - clearly another European league skewed by Champions League earnings...).

However, there are still things that are difficult to find on the internet. Whilst searching for information on Hamble Club prior to my visit on Saturday, I wondered why they effectively had the word "Club" in their name twice - "Hamble Club Football Club". I couldn't find the answer, but I guessed that they might be affiliated to the local Working Men's Club (known as Hamble Club).

I asked at the ground if the club had originally sprung from the working men's club, and it so happens that they did, so Hamble Club FC is indeed their correct name - and it makes sense.

Hamble Club's Murray Holmes passes the ball forwards.
As I've started a history lesson here, I might as well carry on...

Hamble Club were formed in 1969 as a youth team. The senior section of the club only came in to existence in 1993, when they joined the Hampshire League Division Three. They enjoyed varying degrees of success before the club withdrew from the by-now single division Hampshire League during 2012/13 after several dismal seasons hovering around the bottom of the league.

It was time to regroup and come back stronger and with a vision. They rejoined the Hampshire League in 2013/14 (now with two divisions) and immediately won promotion to the top division. They duly won the league, scoring 105 goals in 34 matches. However, the facilities at their home ground fell short of the standard required for promotion to the Wessex League, so they had to bide their time and spend another season in the Hampshire League.

To be promoted, they needed covered seating, floodlights, and hard standing around the pitch, amongst other things. Luckily, their owner was able to provide the facilities that the Wessex League required, so third place last season was enough for promotion, along with Portsmouth-based Baffins Milton Rovers.

Hamble Club's Mo Nyang just gets to the ball before Totton & Eling's Matt Taylor to open the scoring.
So, here they are. Hamble Club have a nice ground with decent changing rooms, a hut to dispense tea and burgers at half-time, an experienced management team, and a squad full of players who have previously played at Wessex League level and above.

Just as happened last season, when Portland United joined the league and absolutely stormed it, both Hamble Club and Baffins Milton Rovers look like they're heading for a second successive promotion together, in first and second place respectively going in to Saturday's game, both having scored nearly a hundred goals already.

Mid-table Totton & Eling were Saturday's visitors. As their fans entered the ground for their first Wessex League visit, they would have been greeted by a volunteer at the new pay shed. £5 for adults, less for concessions - a small amount to pay for their afternoon's entertainment. Immediately to their right, they could have had an early warming cuppa in the green tea hut. On a nippy January day like Saturday, the proper mugs would have warmed the fans' hands as they waited for their tea to cool down to a drinkable temperature.

The Hamble Club subs blasted a ball over the bar and in to the neighbouring field at half-time, but not to worry - this police dog was on hand to tidy up!
Behind the tea hut is a large field which I believe belongs to the neighbouring police training centre. At half-time, an off-duty copper was taking one of the training centre's dogs for a walk across the field. A couple of balls had been booted out of the football ground by the subs. The dog decided to have some fun, dribbling the footballs around an imaginary obstacle course with its nose. Fantastic half-time entertainment, but I can't guarantee that this happens every Saturday...

Anyway, as the Totton & Eling fans made their way around the hard standing which surrounds the pitch, they would have arrived at the lovingly-crafted brand new wooden stand on the halfway line on the far side. This is painted bright yellow and has three rows of bench seats - enough room for at least fifty people to shelter on a dreary afternoon, if needs be.

The only other structures at the ground are the two dugouts, brick-built, with the home dugout being twice the size of the away dugout!

The sun goes down as Hamble Club attack in the second half.
The Totton & Eling fans would have feared the worst coming in to this game. They have a young team, whereas Hamble Club's experienced players have been around the block a few times. They had nothing to be ashamed about however, as their lads acquitted themselves well. They didn't have many chances to score, but they defended well, restricting the home side to a lot less goalscoring opportunities than they've been used to having this season (Hamble Club have hammered a few teams so far, including an 8-2 away victory over the normally useful Tadley-Calleva in their previous game).

The opening goal came after 14 minutes, when Mo Nyang ran on to a bouncing through ball, leaping like Zebedee out of The Magic Roundabout to nod the ball over the advancing Matt Taylor in Totton & Eling's goal. The ball bounced four times and trickled just inside the post. Nyang laid down, looking nonplussed, as though he couldn't believe how high he'd jumped to win the ball.

Hamble Club's players were half a second quicker in thought, half a yard quicker in action and had a little more nous than their young opponents, so I was expecting a few more goals after the opener. There was a second after 36 minutes, but it proved to be the last. Nathan Lynch rose high and headed in from a corner as Totton & Eling's defence temporarily took the Mannequin Challenge.

There were other chances, the best of which was late in the second half when an away defender headed off the line when Taylor had been beaten by a hard shot, but Hamble Club will have to wait at least another week to rack up 100 league goals for the season. Seven against struggling Pewsey Vale this coming Saturday would do it. Baffins need five against the equally hapless Andover New Street to beat them to it. If either of them reach a ton this week, they'll be the first in the country at step 6 to do so. It should be an interesting afternoon.

Would you like your ball back, mister?
Thank you to Hamble Club for their hospitality on Saturday. I shall return to watch them another time. It will be fascinating to see the club develop even further over the next few seasons as they potentially become a force in local football.

I shall post another 40 or so photos from the game on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page before bedtime this evening.

For my next report, I shall be visiting the divisional leaders in another league at the same step in two weeks time. Compare and contrast. As ever though at this time of the year, the weather may intervene, so it's a liquid situation.

Right, you'll have to excuse me, but I have to get off the internet now and dig out my old encyclopaedias. I'm off to read about mermaids, cheese and beer...

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