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!

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