Sunday, 10 June 2018

End of Season Roller Round-Up 2017/18


Four Marks FC
I should really stop entering internet competitions. I've never won one. I never will.

There was one at the end of the season on a start-up site sponsored by a betting company. Why they set their website up in April, so close to the end of 2017/18, I don't know. Anyway, they were offering big prizes for a poetry competition:

Send us your poems about rollers and you could win £1,000 in cash, plus a season ticket for your favourite club!

Well, this competition looked too good to be true. I had to enter. No chance of winning, obviously, but if I didn't try, I'd regret it forever. Or at least 30 seconds, and then I'd forget all about it.

I had writer's block. I couldn't get beyond the following, extremely trite ditty:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Rollers are rusty
And so are you!

Well, if they only had one entry, I would win, so why not?

AFC Stoneham
I logged in to the website, typed out my terrible poem (feeling a little embarrassed, to be honest) and forgot all about it.

A week later, I bumped in to an old friend. He told me he'd got a job with this betting company in the marketing department. Unbelievably, it had been him that had come up with the idea of the poetry competition! I bought him beers for the rest of the evening whilst he showed me the other entrants on his smartphone. For example, this effort about the roller at AFC Stoneham:

Misty, cadaverous, as old as Stonehenge
The haunted roller appears
Forgotten, desperate, seeking revenge
Coffin-bound for eight thousand years
Howling with hatred, tormenting the innocent
The haunted roller appears
The rusted zombie groundsman's equipment
Of your nightmares and day fears

I couldn't help it. I shouted out:

Who ya gonna call? Roller Busters!

My old friend laughed and agreed it was a bit of an overwrought effort.
 
Havant & Waterlooville




Then there was this one about the moppy rollers at National League Havant & Waterlooville:

Another wet day in Havant
The thirtieth day in a row
Another day for their rollers
To be our spongey heroes

Slurp it up and regurgitate
Like a parent hawk for its chick
This pitch needs to be puddle-free
We need it to be in good nick!

I didn't like the last line. I told my friend it didn't scan properly. He had no idea what I was talking about. He'd never read a poem in his life. He said he'd put it to one side. If there was nothing better, he'd consider it for the prize. I rolled my eyes.

Borth United
Then he showed me this one about the roller at Mid Wales League Borth United:

Come hippie missiles and fall on Borth
Loaded with unicorns and glitter and flowers
Give the team strength to rise up and finish fourth
And give the players wings and laser boots and other super powers

Well, that was so poor, I was beginning to think my trite effort had a chance. One thousand pounds! I could see me renting an open-topped bus for the day, buying myself a cheap trophy and riding up and down Shirley High Street waving my cup around as if I'd just personally won the Champions League.

Dream on, baby. There were more poems...

Bishop's Waltham Dynamos
The next one sounded quite meaningful. For the first time that evening, I was worried:

In a world of circles
He felt like a hexagon
Every divot judged as a jerk.
He wished he had feet and legs.

"I can't avoid the broken glass,
The fox, the goose, the dog shit,
The rancid lumps of bubblegum,
The rocks and stones and beercan lids"

Imagine if you had to roll instead of walk
To squeak squeak instead of talk
Squelching over slugs and spiders
Feeling like a reversed Midas.

In a world full of potholes
Don't be a roller (or a wheel)
In a world full of hot moles

 ...Now you know how they must feel.

But I saw a glimmer of hope. It was that penultimate line about the hot moles. It was rubbish! I bought my friend another beer and pointed this out to him. He was in agreement! I still had a chance.

Godalming Town
Another drink downed. Another two poems to go:

There's a bird called a roller
It doesn't ta-whit
It doesn't ta-whoo
It lets out more of a KWEEK!

There's a roller called a roller
It doesn't rotate
It barely moves at all
And when it does, it lets out a SQUEAK!

That's because it needs some oil.

Well, that clearly wasn't going to win anything, unless the betting company had some sort of Rotten Tomato Prize...

Michelmersh & Timsbury FC
Just one more entry, according to my friend, who by now was on his seventh pint. I offered to buy him another one, and he told me how much he hated his job and all his insufferable workmates and how he'd like to hand in his notice and drop his trousers on his way out of the office and how he'd like to write exactly what he thought about them all on his bum cheeks as he disappeared for the last time...

When your skin flakes off
It becomes dust
When a roller's skin erodes
It becomes rust

I just laughed out loud at that last one. I told my friend that if he dropped his pants, I'd write my poem on his cheeks in permanent marker and it would be the perfect riposte to his awful colleagues...

Overton United FC
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Rollers are rusty
And so are you!

According to the stories I read on social media the next day, he actually carried out his threat! My poem, his arse, all over Twitter!

Needless to say, I didn't win the poetry competition. Nobody won. The betting company found some legal loophole which meant there would be no £1,000 prize, and no season ticket for the lucky winner. To be honest, I don't think anyone deserved to win, as the entries were so uniformly dire.

But I was so close, so close to victory for the first and only time in my life...

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Picture This...A Round-Up of Sorts

The new shelter at Andover New Street.
It's all over for another season. I've brought you more words and pictures, and you keep coming back to see whassup. I don't post about every match I go to, for my own sanity more than anything. I don't even take photos at every game - sometimes excitement has to come before art. But I do have a few pictures to spare from games that I didn't cover on here, so I thought maybe you'd like to see some? All of these photos were previously published on the HAH Facebook page. If you follow the blog on there, you'll be familiar with most of these, but not everyone is on Facebook.

So, would you like to see the new shelter at Andover New Street? Yes? Well, here it is, pictured in December last year. Plenty of places to stand under cover at the Wessex Premier's new boys. You'll never get wet at New Street.

Lymington Town at night.
How about a pretty picture of a church tower at night, taken at Lymington Town's ground in January? It rained that night. It rained every single day for three months...

Danny Phillips puts Infinity in to the cup final.
There was a league cup semi-final at Locks Heath in early February between Paulsgrove and Infinity. I'd seen top photographer Paul Paxford a few days before at Windsor. I asked him where the best place was to take penalty photos. He suggested behind the goal. He was right. The match went to a shootout, which Infinity won to send them in to the Hampshire League Cup Final.

Bush Hill go close against Sway at Hythe & Dibden.
The second semi-final was held at Hythe & Dibden a couple of weeks later. Bush Hill were cruising at 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go, but Sway came back to draw the game and win on penalties. They then beat Infinity in the final in May in what was a minor shock. I took this photo whilst stood on a raised platform behind the goal at the entrance end. Sway's number 7 heads off the line here. If that had gone in, it would have been 3-0 and game over.

The Mighty Havant & Waterlooville in action at Oxford City.
I follow the mighty Havant & Waterlooville when I'm not doing HAH. Here they are (in orange) at Oxford City's Marston Road in March. A hard-fought 1-0 victory for the Hawks.

Step art at Whitehawk at the Battle of the Hawks.
On Easter Monday, Havant & Waterlooville travelled to Whitehawk in East Brighton. They were possibly fortunate to come away with a 0-0 that day, but every point counted after 42 matches, as they finished level with Dartford, winning the league on goal difference.

The sun sets on Romsey Town's promotion hopes.
As clubs battled to finish their fixtures in April, one week it was possible to go to six matches in six days (a rare opportunity as there are very few Thursday night fixtures under normal circumstances). The week started at Romsey Town, who beat Laverstock & Ford 3-1 at the Bypass Ground. Unfortunately, a home defeat by Tadley-Calleva a few days earlier had put paid to their promotion hopes for this season. There's always next year...

Andover New Street's promotion party starting at Totton & Eling.
One team that never faltered - and surprised everyone - was Andover New Street. They were promoted after a 5-0 win at Totton & Eling. After being at (or near) the bottom of the Wessex since forever ago, no-one could begrudge them their success this season. Incredibly, they'll be playing in the division above neighbours Andover Town after the Portway side were relegated by the FA for refusing promotion to the Southern League.

Beneath the high rise at Team Solent.
My third game of this busy week was a Thursday night encounter between Team Solent and Alresford Town. Neither side had anything to play for, but it was an entertaining affair nevertheless. Alresford came back from two down to draw. They probably should have won.

Shock victory for Follands in their final home match.
The Friday night entertainment was at Follands (in yellow above). Rock-bottom, with one home victory all season, you would never have known they'd struggled as opponents New Milton Town were hammered 5-1. Most unexpected.

The home dugout at Fareham Town.
Blackfield & Langley won the Wessex this season. One of their final games was a visit to Fortress Cams, home of Fareham Town. It wasn't much of a fortress that evening as a visibly tired home team were easily beaten after they'd played approximately a zillion games in the previous fortnight. You can see the subs' shirts hung up in the home side's dugout at half-time here.

Paulsgrove rent the Front Lawn facility in Havant for their league match with Sway.
I don't think it counts in my season's match total if I only see half a game, does it? After watching the Hawks beat St Alban's City at Westleigh Park, I caught the last 40 minutes of a 4 o'clock kick-off at Hampshire FA's Front Lawn facility in Havant. It's a 4G pitch which was rented for the day by Paulsgrove for their Hampshire League game against Sway. The "home" club won that game fairly easily.

Ed Harris cadges a lift on Rory Williams' shoulders. This was an exciting moment, but not as incredible as what happened in the last minute.
Did I mention that I follow Havant & Waterlooville? And that they won the National League South to take their place in non-league's top division next season? Here they are celebrating their second goal against Concord Rangers on the final day of the season. 2-0 up against a team with nothing to play for? It's all over with an hour still to play, surely? Well, it wasn't, as the club from Essex somehow scored twice in the second half. Heading for the play-offs with a minute to go, Jason Prior scored with the coolest side-foot volley you'll ever see for the most exciting moment of 2017/18. There was a lot of leaping around right there and then, I can tell you.

One more post this season, and that will be the ever-unpopular roller round-up.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Four Marks v Netley Central Sports

The dugouts at Four Marks FC.
When I first started doing this in 2011, there were a lot of other football blogs around nationally. I have to admit, I thought I'd be one of about 19 locally and nobody would be interested in what I did because the other 18 would all be more erudite, more worthy, have better jokes. There were definitely better blogs - Mark Sanderson was writing entertainingly about playing for Burridge and Skif was authoring Dub Steps (mostly about Havant & Waterlooville, but he covered other teams as well). Sure enough, they were both intimidatingly good. I tried, but I was never going to be their equal.

But there were hardly any others out there locally, even though that period was supposedly "The Golden Age of the Football Blog", so I carried on as the Third Best Football Blog in Hampshire. Bronze medal position, you gotta be happy with that?! And even if HAH wasn't the third best, at least it kept me occupied.

This one is called "The Lonely Footballer Without A Ball" or something equally pretentious.
Details:
Four Marks FC (0) 0 v 3 (1) Netley Central Sports FC
Saturday 21st April 2018
New Forest Care Hampshire Premier Football League Division One
Attendance:10-15
Admission: None
Programme: None
Colours: Orange / black / black v All blue
National Grid reference: SU6634

Division One's top scorer this season, Netley's Alex White, brings the ball under control.
So I carried on as Mark and Skif retired from the game. Others came and went, but I'm still here, and undoubtedly still third best.

I persisted through the years - I would go to a match involving at least one club from Hampshire every other week throughout the season and describe the town and the ground, occasionally mentioning the match. One thing I would never do was copy a description of a place straight from Wikipedia and pass it off as "research". Firstly, that's ripping off someone else's work, and secondly, it's boring. I'd rather have an original story taken from my own experience (or just make something up).

Hence, Four Marks. Would you rather a copy/paste job, or would you like to hear about my friend's story about the garage shop? The latter, obviously...

The view downhill towards the cemetery.
There's not a lot to do in Four Marks, or so my friend told me. She didn't grow up there, but her mum, her step-dad and her dog have moved there since she left home, so she's a fairly regular visitor. It's a nice place to live, apparently, full of large houses with well-kept gardens, but there's NO PUB!

There used to be one in nearby Ropley, but that shut down after a fatal accident involving a pair of teenagers leaving one evening and crashing straight in to another car. No-one survived. The pub building is still there, but its boards and shutters are rotting away along with the rest it.

So there's no pub in Four Marks, which means if you want a drink, you need to get a "takeaway". The problem with this is the lack of shops. The only place that sells alcohol is the Co-op attached to the garage. One evening, my friend went there to buy a bottle of wine and was told by the shop assistant on the till that she "shouldn't be drinking that in your state". She didn't know what he was talking about, so she asked him what he meant. He pointed to his stomach and made a bowl shape. He thought she was pregnant.

She wasn't pregnant - not even chubby - so she was quite upset. She's been dieting ever since.

So my only Four Marks story concerns a body fascist shop assistant. Not really that interesting, but it's a story.

Oh, and there's a fireworks shop in Four Marks where I once bought some bangers. One of these fireworks was the one that I planted upside-down in our garden, lit it and watched open-mouthed as it flew three times around the garden, narrowly missing my young children before landing on my friend's head and setting his hair alight. Another story. Good.

Elm Tree View or whatever it's called. No elm trees to be seen.
I have another story now, and it involves my visit to Four Marks Football Club last Saturday. I arrived at about 2:45 and there was nobody about. I did wonder if the match was on, but the Inspector Poirot within me noted that the nets and corner flags were both standing proud and erect, so the players must be warming up elsewhere.

My little grey cells were correct, as there is another field nearby where the lads were going through their last-minute preparations. The changing rooms and the St George's flag-bedecked clubhouse are next to the other field which appears to host cricket matches during the summer.

So the players had to walk 50 yards or so from the changing rooms along a road next to a popular playground and bowls club to reach the football pitch.

Four Marks on the attack during the five minutes that the sun has shone this season.
The pitch slopes by about 6 feet from top corner to the opposite bottom corner. You might think it would be an advantage to play down the slope as you can probably run a bit faster downhill. However, as the Netley manager pointed out at half-time, it was actually harder, as the ball tends to run away quite fast when through passes are played. That had never occurred to me before, but he was quite right.

Behind a hedge at the bottom of the slope is a cemetery. On the right-hand side is a field with a piebald horse behind some tall trees. I stood for ten minutes in such a position as to try and get some players in a picture with the horse in the background. I failed (there's a photo of the horse on the HAH Facebook page, but no footballers).

At the top of the slope is a small children's football pitch, whilst off to the left is a new housing estate. As usual with new estates, the roads are named after things that were there before the building started, but won't be there any more. In this case, some of the roads are named after birds that used to nest on the land, whilst others are named after trees that were probably chopped down to make way for the houses.

Matt Watts scores Netley's second and they know there's no coming back from that!
The match was the most important of the season in Hampshire League's Division One. The visitors, Netley Central Sports (who I featured earlier in the season against Infinity), were top of the league going in to this, their last match. They were six points clear of the hosts, Four Marks. However, Four Marks would still have one more match to play after Saturday. Win both, and the two clubs would be level on points.

The catch was that Netley's goal difference was superior by ten, so even a narrow one or two goal defeat would probably be enough for them to be champions, although there would still be some jeopardy as Four Marks could theoretically still score a big win at Upham the following Saturday.

This was clearly the game of the day in the Hampshire League, but as is often the case at this level, there were more people playing than there were spectating. Even so, that doesn't make the game any less enjoyable for everyone there.

I didn't take many notes, but from memory, Netley took the lead after around eight minutes - Alex White slotting a penalty home after one of his team-mates was brought down as they were about to shoot. This was White's 24th league goal of the season, which made him Division One's top scorer for 2017/18. I wonder if he wins a trophy for that?

Netley were the better team in the first half. They knew at half-time that Four Marks had to score at least twice, and then another eight times in their final match, so there was no need to panic if they got a goal back. They didn't, as Netley went further ahead five minutes in to the second half. The ref gave a controversial free-kick 20 yards out on the right as a Four Marks defender appeared to win the ball cleanly in a tackle. But once a decision is given, the ref ain't gonna change his mind. The ball was lofted in over the three man wall, and there was Matt Watts at the back post, ghosting in to head home just like ex-England international Martin Peters used to in the old days.

Netley knew it, Four Marks knew it, we all knew it...this was the moment when the team in blue had won the league. They did score again five minutes from time when Watts was played through and chipped the keeper, but it really didn't matter at that point.

Two league officials had turned up with the champions shield and Netley Central Sports were taking it home with them! They had last won a league in 2010 when there was no promotion between the two separate Hampshire leagues. This time, they've applied to go up to the Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division. They've done the business on the pitch, it's now up to the authorities to judge if they have good enough facilities for the step up.

Netley Central Sports...CHAMPIO-NAYS!
I shall be uploading more pictures from the game on to the HAH Facebook page later this evening. After dinner.

I think this will be my last blog report of the season. I've done slightly less than usual, which has been down to the weather in the second half of the season. I may do some sort of round-up of recent matches which will include Fareham Town, who I promised to feature but whose matches have been regularly postponed since I gave my word to them.

There will also be a roller round-up at some point. Some people seem to like them, although most don't.

As for next season? I think I'll carry on, but I won't write quite so much - it does take a lot of time. The blog may become more of a photo-blog. I don't know, I'll give it some thought. In the meantime, I'll be cheering on "my" team, Havant & Waterlooville, as they attempt to win promotion to the National League. Exciting times for the Hawks!

Oh, and my friend is still not pregnant and still enjoys her wine. And my other friend has lost all his hair since the fireworks incident. Nothing to do with me, honest.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Overton United v Paulsgrove

Respect before kick-off.
You know that game Consequences where you're in a group and you take it in turns to write down names and places and what people said on a piece of paper and you fold the paper over and over so that everything is hidden and then you open it up at the end and the consequence is always the same because nobody can think of anything funnier - "they got married, had three children and lived happily ever after"? (He was called... She was called... They met at...blah blah blah...you know the one). Well, if Consequences was real life recently it would go something like... "He was called Andy...The match he was going to was XXX v YYY at ZZZ Recreation Ground...and come Saturday, the consequence was - it rained overnight, the pitch was waterlogged and the match was off".

Over and over again.

Whatever has it been like recently? Every Friday and Saturday it tips it down with rain or snow or cats and dogs and frogs or whatever else is up there in the sky above us.

Until this Saturday. At last!

Overton United's clubhouse and changing room facility.
Details:
Overton United FC (0) 0 v 2 (2) Paulsgrove FC
Saturday 24th March 2018
New Forest Care Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Attendance: About 40 standing around the pitch, plus a few more watching from the bar.
Admission: By donation (a box was brought round)
Programme: No, but there is a monthly club newsletter called Touchline.
Colours: Blue and white stripes / white / blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU5149

Crunch!
I've featured both Overton and Paulsgrove previously this season - Overton in the Hampshire Intermediate Cup at Bishop's Waltham, and The Grove at home to Stockbridge. During Overton's match, I got chatting to joint-manager Gary Savory and said I'd pop along and see them before the end of the season. So I did.

Overton appears to be a prosperous village. Situated around four miles west of Basingstoke, I would guess it's a perfectly pleasant place to live. There's quite a few thatched cottages near the village centre, with plenty of newer houses radiating out from there. The first shop I saw was selling guns (for the sporting community, presumably). I seem to remember when I first visited neighbouring Whitchurch, the first person I saw was carrying a gun - I suppose he bought it from here. He must have been going out to hunt rabbits or pheasants or clay pigeons.

St Mary's Church.
I too was hunting on Saturday, as I often am. I was hunting for new beers to add to my Untappd beer list app. I noticed before I set off that The White Hart had a beer from the Upham Brewery that I'd not tried before, so I popped in pre-match for a cheeky half. That'll be nearly 200 unique types of beer since I signed up 6 months ago then...I'm not obsessed, honest.

Another phone app I've had since Christmas is the Groundhopper app, which some of you might know about. On here, you record all the matches you go to and the grounds that the matches are played on. Not every club or ground is on there - so, Overton's ground is on there (so users can record their visits to Overton Recreation Centre), but Overton United FC are not (I don't know why).

Amongst all the other stats it produces, it ranks its users as "Top Fans" for each club. Apparently, I'm "Top Fan" of several local clubs (because I've seen them play more than anybody else using the app - obviously the number of app users are tiny compared to the number of fans out there, so it's just a bit of fun). Along with the likes of Romsey Town and AFC Stoneham, I'm Paulsgrove's top fan, having seen them play, ahem, five times (like I say, I'm clearly not their top fan in real life - their proper fans have better things to do than record their every movement on phone apps).

Smiles for the winded defender, Jake Warlow, after he was accidentally nutted by his keeper.
So I was out hunting for new beer and a new football ground, as I'd never been to Overton United before. What's it like?

As with most grounds in the Hampshire League, the pitch is situated on a recreation ground. There are tennis courts in one corner and a cricket square in the middle. The pitch is placed next to the Bridge Street Pavilion, which contains the changing rooms and an upstairs members' bar. I would guess this was built in the 1970s, but I could be wrong.

Behind the bottom end of the pitch runs a mill race. This shallow water feature was full of chattering ducks. Throughout the match, I could hear alarmed quacking as a gaggle of over-excited male mallards chased a single female mallard, presumably in the hope of mating with her and passing on their genes to the next generation of ducklings. I wonder if they record the number of ducklings produced from their loins on a phone app?

Where there's water near a football pitch, there needs to be a method of retrieving stray balls from that water, so there was a fishing net sat ready on a bench for that purpose.

As you can see from the pictures here, the main feature at Overton United, and what makes it a particularly attractive ground, is St Mary's Church, positioned on higher ground above the pitch to the north. There must have been a children's party going on when I arrived, as mums and dads and small boys and girls came traipsing past during the first half carrying helium balloons on sticks. One child asked "Daddy, is that a rugby match?"

Daddy said it wasn't.


Corner for Overton.
It certainly wasn't a rugby match, because if it was, I'd have turned around and driven away. I really don't understand that game. Football is so much simpler. Get a round ball, pass it around a bit with your feet and/or head until your team nears the opposition target, then try to get the ball in to that target more times than the other team to win. That's basically it.

And that's what Paulsgrove did twice. Their first goal came after 16 minutes as Tommy Woodward was played through the centre. He chipped the ball over the advancing Sean O'Brien in Overton's goal, under the bar, between the posts, nestling in the net.

Grove could have argued that O'Brien shouldn't have been on the pitch, as he'd handled outside the area after just three minutes. However, referee Chloe-Ann Anderson deemed that there were enough covering defenders to have made it not a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Anderson was busy again just after the opening goal, when a spot of handbags broke out by the clubhouse. Paulsgrove defender Craig Ralph moved his head towards an opponent. There was no contact, but enough intent was shown to warrant a red card. So the away side were down to ten men with 70 minutes still to play.

Celebrating Paulsgrove's second goal.
When the going gets rough, the players get tough. Grove doubled down, determined not to let Overton through. It really wasn't noticeable that Paulsgrove had one less player as they fought for every ball. After all, they're in a great position to win the league - if their season had been fizzling out, maybe Overton would have had a better chance, but tackle after tackle went in and there was no way through for the home team.

There was more controversy after 31 minutes as Paulsgrove thought they'd scored a second, but it was ruled out by the club linesman for offside. The Grove swore he was wrong. I couldn't work out why as I was too far away, but there may have been someone on the goal line playing their player onside? I don't know.

They did get their second, and what proved to be the final goal of the game, after 41 minutes, Danny Lane thumping in a header from close range. The shirt-over-the-head celebration followed, as you can see above.

There were few chances for either team in the second half. Paulsgrove defended their two-goal advantage well. Overton could never quite break through, as I'm sure they would have done against a less resilient side.

Oh, and it rained. I wondered where the rain had gone...

Aw, can I play?
The result leaves Paulsgrove in a strong position. Their biggest problem in the run-in is that they still have 13 matches to play before 28th April, whereas their main rivals for the title, Bush Hill and Infinity "only" have ten to go each. All three have to play each other in the last month, so these "mini-league within a league" games will be crucial. However, they must also avoid slipping up against their other opponents, which is surprisingly something Infinity didn't do at the weekend at Colden Common.

Overton United will finish in mid-table this time out, although I can see no reason why they shouldn't be challenging for a top five position next season.

Thank you to Overton for the friendly welcome.There will be more pictures from the game posted on the HAH Facebook page later this evening.

I'm not going to speculate on where I'll be reporting from next. Wherever it is, could the sun come out just for a few minutes? Please! And could there be a beer I've not recorded before in a nearby pub? Pretty please!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Michelmersh & Timsbury v Lyndhurst

"Football on Junction Box with Michelmersh & Timsbury FC Club Crest"
There's a word for it, probably taken straight from the original German, but I can't for the life of me think what that word is.

It's when you've spent your entire life dreaming about a city, imagining it's the most exquisite place in the world, where everything is perfect all the time - where all the houses are designed by Gauguin and Matisse; where all the men are rugged and handsome and sophisticated and all the women are clever and funny and have hourglass figures to die for; where the cafes and bars are full of these incredible, beautiful people who are all interested in you and your life and the beers are all perfectly golden and come with a frothing head and taste amazing. It's your own personal Utopia.

It could be anywhere, but let's just say you're a Japanese tourist visiting Europe for the first time, and the city you've always dreamt of is Paris. You get there and it's raining. The streets are filthy, the inhabitants are rude. The only people who want to know you are only nice to you because they want your money.

You realise that your personal Utopia doesn't exist and you go crazy, locking yourself in your Kyoto apartment for the next fifty years, only venturing out to stock up on supermarket sushi and cheap rice wine.

It's a bit of a trek from the changing rooms to the pitch.
Details:
Michelmersh & Timsbury FC (0) 0 v 7 (6) Lyndhurst FC
Saturday 17th February 2018
New Forest Care Hampshire Premier Football League Division One
Attendance: 7
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: Amber and black quarters / black / black and amber v Green and black hoops / black / green
National Grid reference: SU3425

The match carries on regardless as smoke billows from a garden on Mannyngham Way.
The same sort of situation could occur with football grounds. You've been to watch your own team at their own ground hundreds of times. You stand or sit with your friends, chewing the fat and swapping yarns every couple of weeks. You join in with the chants. You attempt to make up new songs, trying to rhyme your hard-tackling defensive midfielder's surname with your favourite cereals to the tune of Tom Hark. You clap the lads off the pitch after a narrow defeat despite the worthy performance against the league leaders. They clap you back. It's like your second home and you (mostly) enjoy your Saturdays with your football friends.

But you've always dreamed of that faraway ground, where firecrackers are not only allowed, but positively encouraged; where the tifosi make their own banners, unfurling them before kick-off where they cover the entire Curva Nord (if you made a banner for your team, it would be made out of an old bedsheet, just enough to cover you and your mates at the Tea Hut End).

So when your team are knocked out of the cup and have a blank Saturday, you get on a plane and fly off to Spain, to Barcelona, Bilbao or Betis, hoping for that ultimate football experience.

Kabir Brethen of Michelmersh and Gary Rogers of Lyndhurst battle over possession of the ball.
And then the Spanish TV company moves your game to 11 o'clock in the morning when nobody in the crowd is properly awake, it's raining for the first time in three years (there's no roof over your seat), and the ultras just couldn't be bothered with a pyrotechnic display this week, thank you very much.

You go home, cry, and lock yourself in your bedroom for the next fifty years.

A consoling pat on the back for Michelmersh's overworked keeper.
Groundhoppers are used to this scenario. They hear about "a little gem of a ground" in deepest Flanders, they save up for months for the trip, and they get there only to find the classic old stand has been knocked down.

Now, I'm a bit of a groundhopper when I'm not watching the teams that I actively follow. Long-time readers will know that over the years, I've featured all of the clubs in Hampshire down to Step 6 (Wessex League Division One), plus the rest of the Wessex League in Dorset and Wiltshire. I like to think that I've given you an interesting photographic record of football in the county since 2011 (plus some slightly odd articles on rusty rollers).

But once I've featured all of the clubs at their home grounds at least once (and I've featured many clubs two or three times on their own patch), where do I go next? The answer is to delve deeper, to go lower down the pyramid. Hence, I've been ticking off grounds in the Hampshire Premier Football League over the past couple of seasons. I realised the other day that I only have another eleven grounds to go until I've completed the whole league.

Michelmersh & Timsbury was one of those places.

My cunning plan is to show you the home grounds of Colden Common, QK Southampton, Hedge End Rangers, Infinity, Overton United, AFC Petersfield, Four Marks, Lyndhurst, Headley United and South Wonston Swifts by the end of next season (assuming the clubs all survive - not a given).

No idea what's going on here. I hope everyone involved is okay now.
I have no illusions about what any of these grounds will be like. I know full well that there won't be any ultras lobbing fireworks - there won't even be anywhere to keep dry if it rains, so I'm not going to go home and cry if I find myself in a roped off field. I don't mind, so long as there's a bit of fresh air and some entertainment.

I'd not seen any photos of Michelmersh & Timsbury's home before I went there on Saturday, but what I found was not unexpected. There's a small car park which was full when I arrived 15 minutes before kick-off, but there's plenty of space to park on Mannyngham Way. Next to the car park is a wooden building which houses the dressing rooms. There's a verandah with an overhang there, so you could keep dry whilst watching the football. However, there is a practice pitch and a cricket pitch between the dressing rooms and the roped off main pitch, so you'd need binoculars to watch the match from there.

On the south side of the main pitch are tall trees separating it from more council pitches at Hunts Farm (not in use on Saturday). On the west are some bushes which prevent stray shots from landing on the main road beyond (there's also a tall net here for the same purpose). There are large houses to the north, whose residents would no doubt complain if Michelmersh & Timsbury ever wanted to erect floodlights.

There are two large rusty rollers lying around, who may well feature in a far-fetched story at the end of the season.

Invasion of the spaniels!
I don't want to embarrass the home side by writing about the match too much. I knew it was going to be Bottom v Top, but they had played each other recently and the game had ended up 6-3 to Lyndhurst, so I was hoping for more of the same on Saturday. However, it was never close at any point during the game, as the visitors took the lead after two minutes through Paul Abrahams, and then added four more goals at roughly ten minute intervals, with the sixth coming quickly after the fifth just before half-time.

Michelmersh improved after the break and looked as though they would draw the half 0-0 until Lyndhurst scored their seventh via a Josh Bench header seven minutes from the end.

The match could have been abandoned after 89 minutes as there were no balls left - there were only two or three to start with, and at least one was flat, so when the last remaining ball got stuck up a tree, there was a minor panic for a few minutes until one of the lost balls was retrieved from the bushes, where it had lain forgotten about for half the match.

In the time remaining, Michelmersh did score a consolation, but Hassan Felah was flagged offside. So Lyndhurst improved their goal difference by seven, and Chris Pye, who scored a hat-trick, went top of the divisional scoring charts (James Attwood and Josh Daley were their other scorers).

End of match handshakes outside the wooden changing rooms.
I wish I could have visited Michelmersh & Timsbury on a day when they hadn't been beaten so heavily, but there's always another day, another match when they can go again and hope for better.

I shall upload more photos from the game on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page on Monday evening. I hope I've got everybody's names right on here, but if I haven't, please forgive me - I do it all the time, but not intentionally.

The next HAH will be in three weeks (March 10th). It will feature another Hampshire League match. Having looked at the fixtures, four of my unvisited clubs are at home, so it will be one from either Hedge End Rangers, Infinity, Overton United or Four Marks (although the latter are playing Lyndhurst!). Perhaps one of these places will resemble my own personal Utopia? I can only dream...

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Windsor v Hamble Club

The working turnstiles at Windsor Football Club.
If you've ever been in a position, at work or elsewhere, where you have to give someone some bad news, you'll know the drill - you start with a positive, then you drop the badness bomb (gently), and then you end up with another positive to soften the blow.

Let's start with the positives for Hamble Club. Always start with the positives.

They did enormously well to reach the Fifth Round Proper of the national competition for clubs at this level, the FA Vase. They won six times to get this far, starting way back in September last year:

  • Bemerton Heath Harlequins (h) 3-1
  • Petersfield Town (h) 5-0
  • Romsey Town (a) 3-2
  • Brockenhurst (h) 5-4 aet
  • Horndean (h) 2-1
  • Westfields (a) 4-1
22 goals scored and 9 conceded in reaching the last 16 (over 400 clubs played in the Vase this year). And all this at their first attempt, as they'd never entered the competition before.

A view of Stag Meadow under grey skies from Windsor Great Park.
Details:
Windsor FC (1) 2 v 0 (0) Hamble Club FC
Saturday 3rd February 2018
Buildbase FA Vase 5th Round Proper
Attendance: 625
Admission: £7
Programme: Free with admission
Colours: Red with green and white Union flag / red / white v White / white / yellow
National Grid reference: SU9575

Windsor's old stand with Windsor Cemetery Chapel behind.
The negatives? Move on to the negatives after the initial positives, but do it nicely...

This was one game too far. There was no lack of effort, but the home side were just too good on the day, with the scorer of the second goal for Windsor, Jack Denton, being particularly impressive.

And then the positives again. There's definitely more of those for the Monks.

Hamble Club went further in the Vase than anybody else from the Wessex League this season. They were the final club standing out of 41. Next year, they will receive byes in the first three rounds and enter at the Second Round Proper stage, so they have a good chance of repeating their efforts in 2018/19.

Stud inspection.
I travelled to Windsor by train. Arriving at Windsor & Eton Central, the first thing you see is a replica of an old royal steam engine, nicknamed "The Queen", trapped on a rail between buffers and a restaurant, with no way out. It's the sort of thing that would happen in a Thomas the Tank Engine story to an engine that disobeyed the Fat Controller, except it's happened in real-life in Windsor. Any trains pulling in to the terminus would see "The Queen" and know they should behave themselves on the six minute journey to and from Slough...or else!

You move on from the trapped engine and start walking through a shopping mall. If you're looking for vapes or a cheeky tattoo, then the arcade which you walk through on the way out of the terminus is not for you. Windsor is not Shirley, shall we put it that way?

Beyond the arcade, you see Windsor Castle looming up out of the drizzle. It's big. I didn't realise how far back it stretches until Saturday. I guess it's the ideal size for the Queen and her growing family when they need a few days away from Buckingham Palace.

There were lots of tourists.

Hamble Club attack through the middle...
From the castle, it's a two mile walk to Stag Meadow, the home of Windsor Football Club. Situated on the edge of Windsor Great Park (aka Liz's back garden, which stretches off towards the horizon in every direction), the club has played here since 1911. When I say "the club", I mean the current incarnation and their immediate predecessors, Windsor & Eton FC, who collapsed and went out of business in 2011, just after pipping AFC Totton to the Southern League Division One South & West title.

The original club reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase in 1981. This season's last 16 appearance is the reformed Hellenic League club's best run so far in their short existence.

...and down the left.
Windsor FC play at Stag Meadow, which is a much-loved ground. Many groundhoppers rate it amongst their favourites. And yes, it's an agreeable ground in an attractive setting, so I can see their point. Dotted around outside the ground are stubby oak trees wearing overcoats of ivy to keep the chill out. Making themselves at home in these trees, and flittering between them every few minutes, are a flock of chittering parakeets. They are constantly calling to each other in high-pitched, irritating screeches, sounding just like *insert your two least favourite minor celebrities, probably from Essex, here* having a pointless argument about whose turn it is to peel the potatoes.

The focal point of Stag Meadow is its old stand, erected in 1948. It's about the same height as the one at Cowes Sports, but not quite as wide. The original wooden stand was burnt down in 1943, twenty years after it was built. At the time, it was said that it had been the victim of enemy action, but the truth is that it was probably an arsonist that had done for it. The "new" stand is still in good condition and now has red plastic seats. It was full on Saturday, apart from a few seats with restricted views towards the edges.

Joy at the final whistle...
There is terracing of between three and six steps around the rest of Stag Meadow, with the far side having cover. However, both ends are open to the drizzle and any other elements that might be out and about.

The other thing that might be of interest to groundhoppers is that there is a small hut selling old programmes right next to the entrance. Talking of programmes, the club give the match programme away upon entry, and it's a good one. Saturday's issue had two wordsearches. I always check these for inadvertent rude words - the closest I came to any filth in this issue were the words DOGS and SWINDON.

...and dejection.
I'm not avoiding writing about the match, but I know my main audience is Hampshire football followers, and it was only disappointment for the club's fans and a few local floating fans that I recognised. Nathan Lynch was as effective in the air as he always is (he wins more headers than he has any right to); Nick Watts worked his magic on the right wing...

But generally, Hamble's forward play was snuffed out by Windsor's well-marshalled defence before it became too dangerous. The official match statistics showed that Hamble only had three efforts on goal, and that none of them were on target. By way of comparison, Windsor had 14 shots, eight of which were on target. The two that really mattered came after 29 and 50 minutes.

The first goal was set up via a surging run down the right by Jack Denton, who crossed low and hard across the six-yard line, where Riccardo Cannon cleverly flicked the ball over Rory Anderson in Hamble's goal with the outside of his heel.

The killer second goal, and one that would have graced the turf at Wembley, was by Denton. He picked up the ball from a throw out by the home keeper, and he just ran with it. It was like the Winter Olympics had already started and he was practicing the slalom as he bypassed the entire Hamble team. As he reached the edge of the area, he let fly, and that was that.

Noisy so-and-so.
Windsor's reward for beating Hamble Club is a journey to the north-east to face Stockton of the Northern League Division One. Now, that will be a tough tie.

Highlights from Saturday's game can be found on South Coast Journalism's website. Both goals are worth seeing. There are also match reports here and here. More of my photos from the game will be published on the HAH Facebook page when I get around to it.

That's it from the FA Vase this season for Hampshire clubs. I'll be back in two weeks with a game from the Hampshire League, if the weather is kind.