Monday, 23 October 2017

Baffins Milton Rovers v Radstock Town

The sign by the entrance at Baffins Milton Rovers.
You know that you've been doing something a long time when things that didn't even exist when you first started doing that thing not only exist but are doing very well indeed. I've got used to having workmates that weren't even born when I started work. It's only a matter of time now before I have a manager or a supervisor that's younger than my own children.

In football, at first it's quite exciting when you're 16 or 17 and players your age start breaking in to the first teams at big clubs. Then you get used to it in your twenties and you watch entire teams that are of the same generation as you. You grow up with them, feel their joy when things are going well, and their pain when they lose. If they play for your team, you might bump in to them at the local pub or club and share a beer with them and have a bit of banter (yes, it used to happen).

Then your generation start retiring, and suddenly you're desperately searching around to find that long-serving right-back at Mansfield Town, or the evergreen goalie who's warming the bench at his twenty-third professional club...the last two players in the entire Football League who are still older than you...

...And then you reach the age at which all the referees are younger than you and you have to accept that you're no Spring chicken any more.

The last turnstile from Fratton Park.
Baffins Milton Rovers FC (0) 1 v 0 (0) Radstock Town FC
Saturday 21st October 2017
Buildbase FA Vase First Round Proper
Attendance: 105
Admission: £5
Programme: £1 (I think - it may have been £6 admission with a free programme, not sure)
Colours: All blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU6703

Directors seats in the stand.
And so it goes with Hopping Around Hampshire. I've been doing this since January 2011, and guess what? Baffins Milton Rovers didn't even exist back then! Since forming later that year (as an amalgamation of two successful Sunday sides - Baffins Milton and Baffins Rovers), they have been Hampshire Premier Football League champions twice (in 2013-14 and 2015-16). They also won the league cup in the year that they failed to win the league.

Promotion to the Wessex League was obtained when their ground was deemed good enough. Last season, they scored 128 goals in 40 matches to finish runners-up behind Hamble Club to secure promotion to the Wessex Premier at the first attempt. This was the third season in a row that they had scored over 100 league goals. They reached the League Cup final at the first attempt as well, losing 2-1 to Sholing on a dry and bumpy pitch at AFC Portchester in May of this year.

This season, they have entered a national competition for the first time. Clubs have to spend at least one season playing in the FA Vase before they can compete in the FA Cup, so next year, there should be another "first" for the club as they enter the country's most famous competition for the initial time. In the meantime, they've beaten Cowes Sports and Selsey to reach the First Round Proper of the Vase.

FA Vase gold at the end of the rainbow for Baffins on Saturday.
In contrast to the newness of Baffins, Western League opponents Radstock Town (near-neighbours of Paulton Rovers, who I featured a few weeks ago) are a relatively ancient club, being formed in 1895. They've been competing in the FA Vase since 1975, but they'd never played a club from Hampshire in the competition before. I'll stick my neck out and say that Saturday was the furthest east they'd ever travelled to play a game in this competition (although they'd gone slightly further east in 1986 to play Havant Town in the FA Cup...).

If these two clubs were in the pop charts (yes, such a thing does still exist), Baffins would be the new kid on the block, say, Marshmello, and Radstock would be someone old and respectable...someone like Cliff Richard perhaps? If he's respectable? Not sure. How about Elton John then? Or Gilbert O'Sullivan? Is there anyone who is both old and respectable?!

Radstock Town win out on this occasion.
Baffins moved to their new ground in the summer of 2015. They moved all of one hundred yards from the pitch next door which is under the shadow of a giant adult's climbing frame (see the photos on the HAH Facebook page to view this structure). They shared these facilities by the Langstone Harbour wall with a local cricket club. It made sense to move if they were ever to progress, so with the backing of  their major sponsors Kendall (based at the wharf just to the north of the ground) and some grant money, they've been developing the new ground ever since. (It looked like this in August 2015).

As you enter, you click through the last of the turnstiles from Fratton Park (I wonder if it's the one that my dad used to lift me over to get me in to the ground for free back in the day?). There's another old Fratton Park turnstile at Havant & Waterlooville, but I don't know the whereabouts of the rest of them.

To the right are temporary buildings for changing rooms, a bar/kitchen and a toilet. There's a new, more permanent structure being built which will be the new clubhouse. I suspect this will be open for business before the end of the season.

There's a gate which prevents access to the far side of the ground (making the stadium effectively three-sided, despite the fact there's hard-standing down the Eastern Road side of the ground). On the harbour side is a brand new homemade, roofed two-step terrace (which came in handy when rain fell in the second half). Next to this is a 120 seat stand with black and white tip-up plastic seats. All very impressive, as this was just a roped-off playing field two years ago.

The 120-seater stand and the new terrace at Baffins Milton Rovers.
The match was a game of attrition, as games between Wessex and Western League sides often are. There was nothing dirty, just everyone putting in their all in difficult, windy conditions, thanks to Storm Brian literally blowing a gale. Victims of Storm Brian included one of the corner flags, which blew over just before the match started, and several foam scaffold protectors which had been placed over the railings, presumably to prevent injury to any spectators that happen to be leaning on them. One or two of these lengths of foam fluttered on to the pitch during play before deciding that they actually felt a little safer where they'd come from and returned to the barriers like shy and regretful cockapoos.

There was little meaningful action for the first half-hour as players got used to the conditions. Goal-kicks from one end would fly out for a goal-kick at the other end unless the keeper took a little tap-kick, whilst kicking in to the wind too high meant that the ball would swing round at alarming angles and nobody could predict where it would come down again.

Eventually, the shots on target started arriving, with Radstock, with Storm Brian behind them, having the majority of efforts. Tom Boyle, Baffins' England Deaf international keeper, had to get down smartly a couple of times to prevent the team from Somerset going ahead before half-time.

The second half carried on in much the same vein, but this time Baffins had the wind behind them. To the permanent background sound of whistles coming from the rigging of the yachts in the neighbouring boatyard (home to the likes of Basil and Bagpuss...), the home side pressed on looking for what increasingly looked like the single goal which would bring victory.

After 70 minutes, the breakthrough came. A low ball through the middle caught Radstock's goalie by surprise. It must have moved in the wind, as he fumbled on the edge of his area. Joel Jackson was there to pick up the dropped ball, and he couldn't miss the resultant open goal from 15 yards. Cue elaborate celebrations - some sort of dance moves (to an imaginary Marshmello tune?) followed by handshakes and hair ruffles with his team-mates, followed by high-fives with the fans behind the goal.

Joel Jackson gives high fives to the supporters behind the goal after scoring the winner.
A hard-fought but deserved victory for Baffins at the height of Storm Brian. Their reward is another home tie, this time against struggling South West Peninsula League side Cullompton Rangers, who caused one of the major upsets of the round by winning away at AFC Portchester on Saturday.

The other Hampshire clubs that remain in the Vase after Saturday's ties are amongst the final 128 clubs that survive nationwide. The Second Round Proper will be played on Saturday 11th November. Unfortunately, due to family commitments, I won't be at any of the following games...but you could be! Other than Baffins, here are the fixtures:

Christchurch v Fareham Town
Team Solent v Tavistock
Exmouth Town v Blackfield & Langley (for the second season running!)
Sholing v Wellington
Hamble Club v Brockenhurst
Portland United or Horndean v Royal Wootton Bassett Town

Also in the draw from the Wessex League are Newport (IW), who will be home to Hengrove Athletic.

The round after this one is due to be played on December 2nd, so I'm hoping a few of "our" sides get through so I can feature one of them that weekend.

England international Tom Boyle gives the thumbs up as he leaves the pitch.
There was a photographer from Radstock Town at the match. I assume he was concentrating on taking pictures of his team. I focussed mainly on the Baffins players. More of my photos can be found on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page, which can be found here. Sholing's Keith Legg has added pictures from his club's tie at Highworth Town on the same page. If anybody else has photos of their own Hampshire-based club, feel free to post them there. I'd be interested in seeing them, as would a few others.

For the next HAH (on November 4th), I'll be back on the trail of the Hampshire Intermediate Cup, at one of our local recreation ground-based clubs. See you in a fortnight.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Warsash Wasps v Clanfield

The entrance to Warsash Rec, the home of Warsash Wasps men's team.
I know I keep harking back to the old days, but I feel I need to just one more time. There's a new book about goalkeepers coming out soon, and the keeper's jersey I used to wear at school is on the front cover! I mean, it wasn't really mine - it was my dad's - but I wore it as a kind of retro hand-me-down as the school goalie. It was one of those quilted efforts from the early 1960s, an original Umbro - probably worth a fortune on the black market these days.

*Checks Ebay...confirms NOT worth a fortune*

Anyway, this green jersey was massive and exceedingly baggy on the 10-year-old me (now an exceedingly tight fit on middle-aged me), but I put in some of my finest performances wearing it. Digging it out earlier this year to take photos of it for the book, I noticed an original 1970s stain down the front. Probably a Toast Topper stain. I must have worn the shirt home and had a bite to eat between the end of school and a match against Front Lawn or Cowplain or Riders or Trosnant or Bidbury or whoever our opponents had been that week.

I suppose it could have been the yolk from a fried egg. I ate a lot of fried egg sandwiches in those days.

The head of football at our junior school was Mr Wade. I remember him being as tall as my mate Ben...Ben Nevis, but then all adults towered over me at that time. Mr Wade must have put in a lot of unpaid overtime to run the school football team, but surely he enjoyed doing it? I wonder if there is still a football team at my old school in Havant? Checking their website, there's no mention of football...

Warsash Wasps being led out by today's official, Mr Michael Thomas.
Warsash Wasps SFC (1) 1 v 5 (3) Clanfield FC
Saturday 7th October 2017
Hampshire FA Men's Intermediate Cup First Round
Attendance: People came and went throughout the match, but other than me, I think it would be fair to say that two men and a dog were the only spectators who were there from beginning to end.
Admission: Free
Programme: No
Colours: Yellow and black stripes / black / black v White / yellow / yellow
National Grid reference: SU4905

A lonely-looking club lino waits for something to do as the spire of St Mary's Church peeps out from amongst the houses behind him.
With the decline of football in schools, independent clubs were needed to fill the void. This is where clubs like Warsash Wasps come in. They were formed in 1977 specifically to provide football for children. They have a brand new facility in the village dedicated to their youth teams, just a couple of hundred yards down the road from the recreation ground where the men's first team play.

They currently have 28 teams for boys and girls, ranging from three under-9 sides up to the under-18s. From there, the by-now young men and women can progress to their respective adult teams if they wish to do so.

Of course, they're not the only club to serve their local community in this way. Many other clubs whose adult teams play in local leagues also have thriving youth sections - Warsash Wasps' opponents on Saturday, Clanfield FC, provide a similar service to their village. If I'm reincarnated upon my death and return as a 10-year-old boy, I might well play for one of my local youth teams rather than my school now. Mind you, I'd probably wear a more up-to-date keeper's jersey. I don't think I could stand the inevitable teasing if I turned up in my dad's old shirt again.

When I said that the attendance consisted of two men and a dog, I was forgetting the eight boys and their bicycles...
So the Warsash Wasps men's first team play on a recreation ground in the middle of the village. There were rumours that Gordon Strachan used to live nearby whilst he was the manager at Saints. Maybe he still does, for all I know. Perhaps he occasionally strolls up to the rec to take a game in. If he has a dog, he might even bring it along and join all the other dog walkers who visit the rec during one of Wasps' games.

There's no so-called football furniture at the rec - no terraces, no seating (unless you count the park benches that are dotted around the place), no floodlights, no railings, and so on. The only shelter was used by the local children as a climbing frame during Saturday's match. You can see them sitting atop the shelter in the picture above. They moved over to the other side of the pitch later on and congregated in the playground instead.

Penalty to the Wasps!
It's funny that an ex-Saints manager should live in Warsash, because it's really border country between Southampton and Portsmouth here. To the west, over the River Hamble, there's no question that the majority of football fans support Southampton FC, whereas a couple of miles east, in Fareham, Pompey fans are undoubtedly in the ascendancy. Around here, in the badlands of the Locks Heath / Warsash / Swanwick and Sarisbury area of Solent City, the fans of both clubs live side by side. Neil Cotton of Row Z ran a survey on this subject three years ago. You can see his results here.

What is for certain is that Warsash Wasps play in the Southampton Saturday Football League at Senior 1 level (the second tier of this league). They've not had the best of starts, with only one win from their first four matches. Whereas Saturday's opponents, Clanfield, are comfortably ensconsed in mid-table in the Hampshire Premier Football League. There is a three level gap between the two clubs - the equivalent of a team near the bottom of League Two taking on a mid-table Premiership club - say, Yeovil Town v Stoke City. Realistically, you might expect Yeovil to beat Stoke one time in every twenty - this was the extent of the task facing the Wasps.

The cup competition that the two sides were playing in was the Hampshire FA Intermediate Cup - open to clubs from the Hampshire League downwards in the pyramid, ending at Warsash's level. It's a mixture of Hampshire League clubs and those from the various city-based leagues from around the county, plus clubs from the Isle of Wight, plus a sprinkling of reserve sides from the Wessex League and other places. Last season, the Island's Whitecroft & Barton Sports beat Locks Heath in the final.

Not a penalty! As Clanfield's Brown evades Collier's tackle.
Is it wrong to borrow someone else's match report without asking them first? Probably, but I don't know how to contact John, the author of the following report. We spoke last season at Upham, and he was the man without a dog on Saturday. He posted this report to Tony's Non-League Forum. I've added in one or two names cribbed from the team sheets and made a couple of other minor edits, otherwise this is all his work. Thank you John. If you read this, I hope you don't mind:

"Turned up at Bishop's Waltham but no game on, so decided to watch Warsash Wasps v Clanfield instead. Lively start by both sides but Clanfield won a succession of corners and took the lead from a short corner played to the far post and the ball was headed across goal and slotted home by the Clanfield full back Frankie Cole. Minutes later Clanfield doubled their lead when Josh Hazell launched a long throw in into the penalty area which was headed beyond the keeper by Harry Potter. Warsash had shown some promising moves and their number 10 Chalk rode one challenge in the penalty area but was tripped by a second challenge and the referee awarded a penalty converted by Gibson who found the bottom corner of the net. Any chance of a Warsash recovery was dashed from another Clanfield set piece when an identical short corner was headed by Andy Brown over the keeper and into the net. HT 1-3.

At the start of the second half Clanfield increased their lead when Potter struck a fierce long range shot which Warsash's keeper Moylan seemed to have covered, but he failed to keep the ball out at the near post. Warsash kicking down the slope and with the wind behind them tried to get back in to the game but Clanfield's keeper Chris Clark dived to block a powerful goal bound shot which was heading for the far corner. Another effort went over the bar and a couple of chances went wide of the posts. At the other end the Warsash keeper redeemed himself with some outstanding saves from close range, tipping one shot onto the bar and getting down low to save the follow up. Warsash cleared a couple of efforts off the line as they pushed forward and finally conceded a fifth goal after the Warsash keeper reacted to block a Clanfield strike at the near post but the ball fell to Clanfield substitute Cam Palin who slotted the ball home."

A straw woman was the day's most curious spectator.
At the start of John's report, he mentions that he turned up to Bishop's Waltham, but there was no game on (presumably because the opposition couldn't raise a side). This is a huge problem at this level. There has been a massive decline in participation over the last few years. So many clubs at the real grass roots level have folded due to lack of players. It wasn't very long ago that the Southampton Saturday League had over ten divisions. This season, there are only six. Entire leagues have folded because they've simply run out of teams.

57 teams entered the Hampshire Intermediate Cup this season. In the first round, consisting of 48 fixtures, there were 17 walkovers where one club couldn't fulfil their fixture for one reason or another. I'm not going to speculate at the reasons behind this decline - there will be many different factors involved - but the fact remains, if there are no players, there will be no football. If there is nobody to run a club, that club folds. Once enough clubs die, the leagues lose another division. Once all the divisions within a league have gone, there is no league. If there are any players left, there is nowhere for them to play.

In the meantime, the Premier League will carry on as if nothing is happening.

Time to tidy away the goals until they're needed again.
Clanfield will host Christchurch Reserves in the Second Round of the Hampshire FA Intermediate Cup on November 4th. I may well feature another match from the same competition on HAH from the same day.

I shall publish another 40 or so pictures from this game on the HAH Facebook page later this evening. I need a nice cup of tea before I do that though.

I nearly forgot to mention the name of the new goalie book! It's called Glove Story, and it comes out on November 7th. You can access the publisher's website by clicking here. It's by the same authors as the Got Not Got series of books, which some of you might be familiar with. It would make a grand Christmas present for the between the sticks custodian in your life.

Next time on HAH, I'll be featuring an FA Vase tie being played on October 21st. I haven't made up my mind which game to feature, so no clues this time. See you in a fortnight.