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.

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