Monday, 27 February 2017

Weymouth Reserves v Folland Sports

A pair of Weymouth FC crests adorn the Reception doors at the Bob Lucas. This is the way in for reserve games.
Do you remember when your birthdays used to be so exciting, a day you would look forward to for weeks beforehand, instead of it being yet another impossible number, yet another reminder of your finite mortality? Once a year, you would wake up early, leap out of bed and stumble, half-walking, half-running to your parents' bedroom, squawking incoherently at your mum and dad to remind them what day it was and to get up and FEED ME PRESENTS!

Dad would roll over, bleary-eyed, check his alarm clock, tell you it was only 4:30, and that it was far too early for that sort of thing. You'd have to go back to bed, but you couldn't sleep. You'd sit there reading comics for what seemed like days, until you heard stirring from the bedroom next door.

Then it was ALL ABOUT YOU for the rest of the day. Presents, cake, maybe a party, everyone making a fuss of you. And if it was the weekend or the school holidays, your birthday would be twice as good! As happy as a cat in sunshine on the best day of the year by far (until Christmas rolled around again...).

Game number one. The main stand at Dorchester Town FC.
Weymouth Reserves (2) 6 v 1 (0) Folland Sports FC
Saturday 25th February 2017
Sydenhams Wessex Football League Division One
Attendance: 108 (highest of the season so far)
Admission: £5
Programme: Available, but I didn't get one
Colours: Maroon / white / sky blue v All red
National Grid reference: SY6580

Game number two. Flags a-fluttering in the stiff breeze at the Bob Lucas Stadium.
I don't remember exactly when those feelings dissipated for me - some time during the awkward teenage years, I guess, but they do appear again occasionally. One such time was this weekend. A few weeks ago, whilst checking fixtures and kick-off times for the Wessex League on Full-Time, I noticed that Weymouth Reserves were starting their match against Folland Sports at 5:30 on Saturday. I'd marked this game down as a probable HAH trip anyway, due to the visitors being a Hampshire club. At first, I thought the kick-off time was annoying, as it would mean taking action photos in the dark (never easy to do well). But within ten seconds, I realised that I could probably see another game beforehand. A double!

Two matches one after the other! A double! An elusive and rare double! The only other time I'd seen more than one match in a day was at the Island Games in 2011!

Serious groundhoppers pursue doubles all the time. They will scan the fixtures and travel the length of the country for two matches in a day to make a long trip worthwhile. So I checked for nearby games and immediately spotted that Dorchester Town were at home to Slough Town in a 3 o'clock fixture. The double was on!

Hence my childlike excitement as the day drew nearer...

Weymouth FC's large stand.
Of course, you can do more than two matches in a day on organised groundhop weekends. Any football ground enthusiast who has the spare time and money will probably have been on at least one of these trips. A group of clubs in a particular league who are geographically close together will agree to staggered kick-off times throughout a weekend. In return, they can expect two to three hundred visitors to boost their coffers. If they provide a programme, a pin badge, food and beer, they can make as much money in one day as they can in ten normal matchdays.

The Wessex League were offered the chance to host one of these weekends, but turned the opportunity down. If they ever changed their minds, a Wessex Groundhop weekend would start on a Friday night at a ground near a main base with plenty of hotel rooms for all the distant visitors (say, Southampton). For example, Team Solent would host the opening fixture. On the Saturday, there would then be matches kicking off at 11am, 1:30, 4:30 and 7:45, so we might make our way up the Waterside, from Blackfield & Langley to Fawley to Hythe & Dibden to Totton & Eling. Then on the Sunday, there would be three more matches, starting at 11am, 1:30 and 4pm over the other side of the city at, for example, Sholing, Hamble Club and Folland Sports.

In return for a little disruption (possibly losing some players due to work commitments, for example), each club would make a tidy profit and gain some positive publicity locally - there would be plenty of local football fans potentially making first visits to each club, as well as all the distant groundhoppers that would be coming once and once only.

Goal number two after just six minutes. It was going to be a long old evening for Follands.
In the absence of an organised weekend, perhaps pairs of clubs could agree to staggered kick-off times for a kind of informal "mini-hop"? With agreement from the away clubs, Follands at 2pm followed by Hamble Club at 4:15 anyone? Publicise this on relevant websites and in the Echo and see how many people turn up. If the crowd (and therefore matchday income) triples or quadruples, another pair of neighbouring clubs should then try the same thing. In these days of falling interest in the non-league game, anything is worth trying to bring people in, I would have thought?

Anyway, back to my own informal double, and first stop was Dorchester Town. The Avenue Stadium was opened in 1990, so I don't know if it can still be described as a "new" ground in its 27th year. It's certainly aged well though. The seated stand has a pitched roof with a central gable which covers 710 white plastic seats. The rest of the ground comprises of five terraces, three of which are covered with pitched rooves. The fact that AFC Bournemouth played nine league matches at The Avenue whilst Dean Court was being redeveloped should indicate that The Magpies would have no trouble with the ground-graders should they ever move up the pyramid again. Unfortunately, at the moment, they're heading halfway to nowhere, with Saturday's 0-4 defeat to Slough leaving them close to the Southern Premier relegation zone. Lovely ground though.

James Franklyn of Folland Sports skins Weymouth Reserves full-back Will Gape.
Drizzle, light rain, gusty winds. Low clouds and darkness due half an hour earlier than normal. Forty minutes to drive the six miles to Weymouth's Wessex Ground (now the Bob Lucas Stadium). Up hill, down valley at sixty miles an hour. Weymouth's twinkling floodlights appeared over one of the bumps in the road before disappearing again just as quickly. It all added to the excitement of my double day.

I'd been chatting to Nathaniel (the Terrace Traveller) at Dorchester, and he was here again in the large car park. He'd had the same idea as me. I assumed there would be another dozen groundhoppers following us from Dorchester (I'd spotted several taking photos at The Avenue - a giveaway), but didn't recognise anyone else from the first game once we were inside the stadium.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Our first problem was how to enter the Bob Lucas. The turnstiles were unmanned and there didn't appear to be any other way in. Nathaniel suggested jumping over the turnstiles and finding a club official to pay once we were inside, but I poo-pooed that idea (I had visions of me getting one leg over the turnstile and promptly getting stuck. With hilarious consequences).

Eventually we spotted someone entering the double doors at Reception. We decided that was most likely to be our route in to the stadium, and it turned out that it was. £5 handed over at the box office window, as if we were entering a theatre. The Theatre Of Nightmares, as it would turn out for Follands.

Fantastic chip over the keeper from 30 yards by Follands' Jamie Dover (out of picture).
But what were Wessex League Folland Sports doing at Southern League Weymouth, I hear you ask? Was this a cup game? No, they were actually playing Weymouth's reserve team, who were promoted to the Wessex League from the Dorset Senior League during the summer.

This was a controversial promotion, as Weymouth Reserves are the first stiffs ever to play in the Wessex League. Other reserve sides in the Wessex catchment area all play in the Wyvern League (including neighbours Dorchester Town). At the Wessex League AGM, some clubs argued that a reserve team in the league could be the thin end of the wedge. If Weymouth were allowed in, then why not other reserves of higher-ranked clubs? But there was nothing anyone could do other than complain, as the FA's Leagues Committee allocate clubs to leagues, and so Weymouth Reserves were in.

Is the Bob Lucas Stadium the most impressive to host Wessex League football? Salisbury fans might argue otherwise, but the answer is almost certainly "yes". Built in 1987 on the site of the town's old speedway track, Weymouth FC have been playing here for 30 years now. Like The Avenue Stadium, it can no longer be described as new. Indeed, it has started to rust in places, the salty sea air not helping in this respect. With a capacity of 6,600 (800 seats), the Bob Lucas is bigger than some Football League stadiums.

The imposing stand has plastic seats in fading club colours. As at big rivals Dorchester, the rest of the ground is terraced, with large covers on each side. The terraces have crush barriers painted in maroon and yellow. It's another proper football ground, my second of the day.

Fellow blogger Nathaniel Holland (The Terrace Traveller) watches the players leaving the pitch at the end of the game.
I'm not trying to avoid writing about the match, I'm really not, but nobody from Follands is going to want to read this. I could just move on and write about something else, or just stop here, but I feel obliged to mention the game in passing:

Okay, a Positive: Follands have a young team who haven't been playing with each other for very long. Last week, they won 6-3.

Minor Negative: This week, they lost 6-1 against a group of players who are all hoping to play three steps higher in the Southern League in the near future - some of them have already played for Weymouth's first team this season in cup competitions.

Positive: Goalkeeper Callam McGeorge made a terrific penalty save two minutes in to the second half to prevent Conor Jevon securing his hat-trick.

Negative: It rained hard during a ten minute spell in the second half when Weymouth scored their fourth, fifth and sixth goals. Just before the fourth went in, Weymouth's keeper made a terrific fingertip save to deny Follands scoring with a 35 yard screamer. So nearly 3-2, and it could all have been different.

Another Positive: Follands' Jamie Dover scored the best goal of the match, lobbing Ashley Weeks from 30 yards from near the right touchline. Weeks got tangled in the net and had to be rescued by the referee.

Three positives against two negatives for Follands. They'll learn from this match and come back mentally stronger.

On a personal note, I loved the two grounds on Saturday, but I have to warn anybody thinking of going to either stadium who collects programmes that Dorchester's can only be bought outside the main entrance. Once inside the stadium, I wasn't allowed back out to buy one. Whereas Weymouth Reserves had a programme, but they only seemed to be printing them out on demand at the box office for anybody who asked for one.

Luckily, I'm not too fussed about purchasing a programme, but I do like to buy a pin badge if there's one available. I was expecting one at Dorchester, but their club shop was shut, and there were none available elsewhere in the ground. And at Weymouth, you can buy them at first team games from their club shop. However, the shop doesn't open for reserve matches. As a nine-year-old, I'd have been devastated, but I've mellowed out a bit since then.

EDIT: Weymouth Reserves secretary has offered to send me a badge, which is very kind. So many nice people at this level of football.

And here's one of those Weymouth players, being congratulated by some young fans.
Nathaniel will probably be writing about both this game and the previous one at Dorchester Town on his Terrace Traveller blog.

I shall be uploading another 40 or so photos from the day on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page this evening.

I will also be updating my Wessex League Story Map with information from Weymouth Reserves this evening. If anybody uses this map and is aware of any wrong links, postcodes, whatever, please let me know and I shall fix them.

My next two reports will be from matches on March 4th and the 18th, so in seven days or so, there will be some words and pictures from a Hampshire Premier Football League game, so long as the wet weather forecast for the coming week doesn't ruin my plans.

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