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).

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