Monday, 25 September 2017

Godalming Town v Brockenhurst

Scarves for sale at Godalming Town (and mugs, programmes and pin badges!).
Wow! Just wow! It's not even October yet and already I've seen my best game of the season! Although, to be honest, that's often the case at this time of the year. The early rounds of the FA Cup and Vase tend to produce some of the most dramatic matches in any given season. For the players, it must be the lure of Wembley glory (or even just the prospect of testing themselves against relatively big clubs from outside of their usual region). Do they try harder, or is that merely my imagination? Or is it that cup matches are just more exciting than bread and butter league encounters, for the players and followers of the sport? Then there's pride at stake for the league if you're playing a club from another region. Adrenaline is a notch or two higher than normal. It's a heady mix.

It had looked like the most straightforward of wins for Brock. Wingers Will Tickle and Mark Barker had spent the first half tormenting Godalming's full-backs. They had been jinking and jetting past their unfortunate opponents, crossing and shooting at will. Aaron Dunne had scored the Badgers' overdue first after 20 minutes, heading in from Barker's free-kick. Matt Sheedy added the second ten minutes later after Tickle's cross had been blocked and rebounded to him ten yards out. And then there was a third in stoppage time from Mitchell-Carlton Speechley-Price.

Brock were absolutely cruising in to the next round. No problem at all.

The main stand at Godalming Town FC.
Godalming Town FC (1) 3 v 5 (3) Brockenhurst FC
Buildbase FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round
Saturday 23rd September 2017
Attendance: 80-100
Admission: £6
Programme: £2 (the best I've seen at this level for quite some time)
Colours: Yellow / green / yellow v All blue
National Grid reference: SU9844

Tiny homemade shelter at Wey Court.
And then Godalming got one back.

It was 45+4 - the "plus 4" being time added on due to a double sending off after 34 minutes. I didn't see the incident, but according to my source in the stand, there had been a "coming together of heads", "handbags" and "nothing much to it". However, the end result was that Godalming's Hakim Griffiths and Brock's Tommy Barnes both took the walk of shame back to the dressing rooms.

During the Plus 4, Godalming's debutant Robert Webbe scored via the back of his head. It was 3-1 at half-time and Brock should still have been comfortable.

Mark Barker attempts to round Aaron Bufton in Godalming's penalty area.
But it wasn't comfortable at all, not at all. The Combined Counties Premier Division side began playing with more poise and confidence after the break. The clock ticked round to 58 minutes and my "last goal scored" raffle ticket's time was up. Sadly, the entire minute was taken up with a substitution for the home side. I've still never won a football raffle...

Shortly after this, Ben Cotton weaved his way through Brock's defence, rounded goalkeeper Matty Taylor and side-footed home to make it 2-3. Time for the home side to pick the ball out of the net and run with urgency up to the centre-spot, slam it down and keep believing they could complete an unlikely comeback.

Brockenhurst were visibly nervous at this point with Godalming's tails well and truly up. They couldn't get a third. Could they?

The answer to this question was "yes", but in an unexpected manner. With 15 minutes remaining, Webbe floated in a corner...and the ball seemed to cross the line without anyone touching it. There may have been a slight deflection, but I didn't see one from the far end where I was stood. 3-3 with a goal straight from a corner. Now, would there be extra-time and a possible replay, or could one of the combatants snatch a late victory?

Goalmouth scramble but no goal on this occasion.
I needed a good memory to take away from this part of the world. The last time I'd been in the Godalming/Farncombe area (Godalming Town actually play in Farncombe), I'd been in the school hockey team (goalkeeper, naturally), and for some reason, we had an away fixture against one of England's most expensive public schools, Charterhouse, which is a mile or two distant from Wey Court.

You'd have thought that you'd be able to leave your valuables in the changing rooms at Charterhouse with impunity, what with the public school ethos of fair play and honesty and so on and so forth. I mean, compared to some of the rough, tough schools I played at in both the hockey and football teams, none of whom ever caused us any bother...

But come full-time and a creditable 2-2 draw against the future captains of industry and grandees of the Tory party, we returned to the dressing rooms and we'd been ransacked! My bus fare home, all 15p of it, gone! But worst of all, I'd bought a 7 inch vinyl record on my way to school that morning - Turning Japanese by the Vapors - and the thief had broken it. Not stolen it, but worse, broken it!

Henceforth, from that moment, I became a Communist.

The inevitable arty pic.
I needed a good memory from my trip to Surrey, and Brockenhurst's Speechley-Price provided it with six minutes remaining. He'd been a painful presence all afternoon and looked the most likely to score. And score he did. Chasing a ball played through the centre, he reached the edge of the 18 yard box and shot low and hard. The ball looped up off a stretching defender, leaving Bufton helpless as it bounced over the line and in.

People sometimes ask me if I have any favourites from the 50 or 60 clubs that I cover on here, and I usually go all coy and say "no comment" or words to that effect, but I found myself punching the air when that fourth goal went in, so yeah, I'll admit it, Brock are one of my favourite teams.

Unlike my children, I don't love everyone equally.

With Godalming chasing another equaliser, Speechley-Price was played through the middle again with two minutes remaining. This time he shot earlier, arcing the ball way over Bufton's outstretched arms to make it 5-3 for what was, in the end, a deserved victory for the club from the New Forest.

Mitchell-Carlton Speechley-Price celebrates scoring his second and Brock's fourth of the afternoon, as well as having the longest name in the Wessex League.
So Brockenhurst progressed on what turned out to be a very good day for Wessex League clubs against sides from surrounding leagues. They'll be playing at home to South West Peninsula League side Crediton United in the First Round Proper on October 21st. Here are the fixtures for the remaining Hampshire clubs:

AFC Portchester v Cullompton Rangers
Highworth Town v Sholing
Westbury United v United Services Portsmouth
Romsey Town v Hamble Club
Portland United v Horndean
Fareham Town v Ivybridge Town
Baffins Milton Rovers v Radstock Town
Hengrove Athletic v Alton
Farnham Town v Lymington Town
Frimley Green v Blackfield & Langley
Bashley v Bridgwater Town

I hope to file a report from one of these matches on HAH in four weeks time. But which one?

Down the steps to the dressing rooms for the returning heroes.
There's another report from Saturday's game on Godalming Town's website here. More photos from the match will appear on the HAH Facebook page later this evening.

Obviously, the incident that scarred my childhood at Charterhouse had nothing to do with the good people of Godalming Town FC. Just being there amongst the friendly home crowd in the sunshine will always be a good memory. And their ground is lovely, with an old stand with wooden bench seats, an engaging announcer, a superb programme packed with info and colour photos, an area for children to play, a rusty roller in one corner, a top-notch tea hut...I could go on. They're a good bunch. If you're up that way, please pay them a visit.

The next HAH will be from a match being played on October 7th. I do love a cup game, so I'm considering delving deep - really deep - down inside the pyramid and visiting an insect-themed club from the badlands between Southampton and Portsmouth for a Hampshire Intermediate Cup tie next. See you in a fortnight.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Paulton Rovers v Winchester City

The entrance sign at Paulton Rovers FC. So now we know where we are, we can start the story...
It's not a competition. I repeat - it's definitely not a competition, and there is no winner, but every weekend, amateur and semi-pro photographers all over the country go out and try to take the ultimate football picture. We go to the match, we click away, then eagerly check the screens on the back of our digital cameras looking for this week's finest photos (we know when we've got a good 'un! Like a fisherman reeling in the biggest trout of the day, there's a frisson when we first see our best pics...). We download our pictures to our PCs or laptops, delete the out of focus ones, or the pictures where the linesman ran in front of the lens at just the wrong moment, do a bit of cropping and brightening, then upload our favourite photos to our preferred internet platform and wait for the Likes to roll in...

We just want our labours to be loved.

The structure photo. Players giving foreground interest.
Paulton Rovers FC (1) 1 v 0 (0) Winchester City FC
Emirates FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round
Saturday 2nd September 2017
Attendance: 129
Admission: £9
Programme: £2
Colours: Claret / claret / white v Blue and black stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: ST6556

Landscape for context. Tiny players. Spoil heap covered with trees...small gap top right!
You can classify football photos in to different groups. An interesting match photo album will have some pictures from each group.

If you're going to create a satisfying album, you want to tell a story, so we tend to start a photo-story with a sign. It will literally set the scene by showing the viewer where we are that day. Is there a match board? A road sign pointing to the ground? A big board outside the entrance with club name and badge? There's one of the latter at Paulton Rovers, so that's the title of this week's story sorted.

We enter the ground. We need to set context for the match, so we take photos of the structures. The stands and terraces are part of the history of the club - there's emotion in these places. So many cheers and tears over the years, so many stories from matchdays past. Today is the latest chapter in the club's ongoing history. Empty or full of nervous, fingernail-chewing fans, the stands and terraces are our background for the day. Paulton Rovers' 25-year-old main stand is smart and colourful - painted in pink and claret - it makes a cheerful backdrop for the later action pictures. I make sure it appears often (backdrop is important for action photos).

The action shot. Crunching tackle version.
The match starts. We select a position where the backdrop is interesting or the light is good (sun shining on players is often better than shooting in to the sun...). Structure pictures are useful for the story, but there's also the wider context of the ground's setting. What lies outside of the confines of the stadium? The keen football photographer will take a few "landscape" pictures at every match. At Paulton Rovers, to the south, there isn't much to see, so no landscape photos on that side. To the west lies the village of Paulton itself, so slatey-grey rooftops are visible on this side. To the north, behind the pink stand, you can see green Somerset hills with wind turbines way off in the distance. These hills carry on round to the east (and most open) side of the ground, so the north and east sides give the best backdrops. A wide angle camera lens gives us tiny players, but there's pretty countryside and big sky to make up for this (if there's no attractive backdrop, then Big Sky is always a good fallback, especially if there are fluffy clouds).

We'll return to the landscape to the east in more detail in due course...

Great action shots aren't easy to take. There's anticipation, timing, and luck involved. You have to anticipate that crunching tackle, that aerial battle from the goal kick - a split-second too early or too late, and the ball hasn't arrived yet, or it's already gone (it's always good to have the ball in the picture). You also want to have the players facing towards the camera - whoever views your pictures will want to see their grimacing faces. In the action shot above, it looks like Simba Mlambo is being fouled, but the ref thought otherwise and waved play on.

The goal photo. Almost inevitably taken from the far end of the pitch. At least the scorer isn't hidden in this one.
The ultimate action shot is The Goal! As with the standard action shot, a little luck is needed. Are you going to be at the right end for the first goal of the game? On Saturday, the first goal was the only goal of the game, so miss it and there would be no goal photo for the story. Paulton were having their best spell of the match five minutes before half-time (Winchester had been disrupted by losing two players to injury in quick succession at this point - Adam Tomasso to a particularly nasty-looking head injury after he caught a flailing elbow, and Andy Jenkinson to a muscle injury). Paulton won a corner on their right. Dale Evans floated the ball in to the box where Joe Chandler rose highest to head home (video retweeted by the club here).

The trouble with goal photos is that the scorer is often obscured by another player, so it's a good idea to have a motor drive on your camera, taking several photos per second - at least in one of these pictures, the scorer may be visible.

Allied to The Goal shot is The Celebration! Taking many pictures of the goal celebration improves the story (but just choose the best shot for your story - don't fill the entire album with essentially the same moment -  just because you took 17 pictures with the motor drive doesn't mean your audience want to see all of them). It's the most emotional part of the match. Are the players leaping all over each other? What are the fans in the background doing (answer: not much in the picture below - although the other photographer at the match is looking at his camera - I wonder if he caught the goal)?

The goal celebrations. Always with the goal celebrations.
Then there's the portrait shots. Photographers may snap individual players during breaks in play. There are the full length shots, such as the one below of Pat Cox, or half-body or head and shoulders shots. If someone is pointing or shouting or otherwise showing some emotion on the pitch, so much the better. As I was following Winchester on Saturday, I concentrated my portrait shots on the away team only, trying to snap each of them at least once (I failed miserably).

Action shots and portraits can be taken at any game, and are essentially interchangeable. But what makes the match or the ground different? This is where a quirky or arty picture comes in. Is there an unusual sign in the ground? Or is there coloured tape wrapped around a goalpost? Zoom in and highlight the quirks. The arty shot featured here from Saturday is of a pair of speakers taken from inside the stand, taken at such an angle that Winchester's subs can be seen as well for extra interest.

There are other types of photo not featured here, such as the "crowd's eye view", where you might stand behind someone and take a picture of them watching the match. Pictures of the fans, floodlights, the carpet in the clubhouse with the club crest on it - it all adds to the story.

My photo-story of Paulton Rovers v Winchester City is partly here, but mostly on the HAH Facebook page.

The full-length portrait with bonus blurry background landscape.
But there's one more type of photo I haven't mentioned yet, and it's one that us amateur football photographers dream of - the perfect whole-stadium view taken from an overlooking vantage point outside of the ground. We don't get many chances to do this. A rare example of this type of pic in the Wessex League would be at Laverstock & Ford - there's a hill behind their ground - on my last visit there I climbed up the hill to take pictures of The Dell and the rest of Salisbury stretching out beyond and it was lovely!

The further west you travel, the more hills there are, the higher the chance of getting an elevated full-stadium view. So I checked an Ordnance Survey contoured map before setting off for Paulton, and sure enough, I found a lump overlooking the ground. Even better, there were public rights of way wending their way up there.

I made sure I arrived in Paulton early. I parked in the ample club car park and went for a walk. Ten minutes later, I was at the base of the lump. It's no ordinary hill - it's an old spoil heap from a neighbouring coal mine (the disused mine is no longer visible, as it apparently was a few years ago). It's a steep old lump, but I was determined to get my perfect photo! So I followed the path along the base, looking for a gap in the trees with a view of the football ground. It didn't happen, so there was only one thing to do, and that was to climb the spoil heap to the top. One major's surrounded by barbed wire, so no go.

So I walked round the base to the right, through a kissing gate and in to a field. I disturbed a woodpecker feeding on ants, but otherwise there was no other living creature up there. Still no whole-stadium view though as I reached the top of the field. At which point, I stopped dead in my tracks. In front of me was a herd of cows. Now, you might not be afraid of cows, but I most certainly am. A few years ago, I was walking along a footpath through a field full of cows when they suddenly took a dislike to me and my companions. The entire herd started running towards us, looking angry. We had no choice but to run as well. Either that or be trampled.

We reached the wall surrounding the field and just managed to climb over before the herd reached us. Cows? No thank you! As you can probably imagine, I'm very wary when out walking now, and if my route goes through a cow field, I'd rather turn back and retrace my steps. So, with one eye peeking warily behind me, I walked back down the hill, disturbing the woodpecker again.

The quirky/arty shot. Big speaker! Small speaker!
There was another path to the left of the spoil heap, so I tried this way instead. I found a small gap between the leaves here and took a picture, but I thought I could do better. There was no barbed wire next to this footpath, so glancing up at the steep, gravel-strewn hillside to my right, I thought I'd risk climbing up there.

It was slippery - very slippery. I'd put one foot down on a tree root, but the other foot would slip back down as there was no real purchase. Eventually though, I made it to the top. Treading very carefully, avoiding the badger sett holes, I tiptoed across the top of the spoil heap. There was my friend the woodpecker again - oh, if only I had wings like you! Someone else had been up there having a bonfire recently, but they were long gone. I was on my own in a potentially dangerous place, but my urge to take the perfect photo drove me on.

Ten more steps, and there it was...Paulton Rovers below me with the players doing their pre-match warm-ups on the pitch. I could see most of the pitch and the near and far ends, but not the stand on the right, which was obscured by a tree. Three steps to my left and I'd be able to see it. Trouble was, the steps were down and would end at the top of a nearly-sheer drop of fifty feet or so. Was it time to turn back and admit defeat? Of course not! Perched precariously at the top of the cliff, I took the photo reproduced below. Was it worth it? You can decide for yourself.

And here's the one I defied serious injury for. Was it worth it?
Winchester can consider themselves truly unfortunate not to come away from Paulton with at least a draw. They were unlucky with the early injuries, but then with wave after wave of attacks being repelled by the home defence in the second half, and a marginal offside decision denying them a 93rd minute equaliser, they would have lost that match maybe one in ten times. On most average days with average luck, they would have been in the hat for the Second Qualifying Round draw. Talking of which, here's how it turned out for the surviving Hampshire clubs:

Havant & Waterlooville v Merthyr Town;
Gosport Borough v Swindon Supermarine;
Cinderford Town v Basingstoke Town or Hartley Wintney;
Truro City v AFC Portchester.

Paulton Rovers will host Kidlington.

Ties to be played on Saturday 16th September.

Match reports can be found here (Paulton Rovers website) and here (Southern Daily Echo). I can't see any other photos elsewhere. So the HAH Facebook page will be the only place where the story of the day will be found (as soon as I have time to upload them).

If you're interested in football match photography, take a look at these sites to inspire you. They don't necessarily follow all the rules (rules are there to be broken, after all), but they're all exceptional at this lark:

Pitchside Photo
Darren Luke
Ben Webster
Onion Bag
David Bauckham

This list is not exhaustive.

There are also a few local club-based photographers who are also very good. Take a look at Ray Routledge's photos on Sholing's website, for example.

HAH will be back in three weeks for an FA Vase tie featuring a Wessex League club. See you then.